76ers

Aggressive Jimmy Butler shines in Sixers' win over Kings

Aggressive Jimmy Butler shines in Sixers' win over Kings

For those who wanted to see Jimmy Butler be more assertive on offense, Friday was your night.

Butler was aggressive early and often, scoring a game-high 22 points in a 123-114 Sixers’ win over the Kings at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

Butler had a pretty simple explanation for why he played so well.

“It was 75 degrees outside today,” Butler said. “I just feel good. Like for real, that weather, that 75 degrees, my body felt good, we were rolling. I think everyone was comfortable. We realize how important each and every one of these games is down the stretch so it’s time to take it up a notch or two.”

Of course it wasn’t just about the weather. Butler warmed to the task inside the arena.

The 22 points were nice, but what stood out more was Butler looking to get his. The four-time All-Star took 14 shots from the field and also hit 6 of 7 from the line. He also has enjoyed and flourished in his role as facilitator, especially with the team’s second unit.

It was a different Butler than we’ve seen at times, one the Sixers are hoping shows up in the postseason.

“We will not — I’ll say not even close — we will not be as good as we can be without him playing like he plays and like he played tonight,” Brett Brown said. “I’m the coach and I got to figure out the best way to do this. Some of [it’s] with substitutions and rotations. Some of it’s his teammates recognizing. Some of it’s on him. Somewhere in the middle, if we could all meet … 

“He’s just incredibly gifted. He really is so athletic that he can make plays through that physical presence and skill package. We need him. We need him. That’s the bottom line.”

There’s been a lot of talk about Butler’s role and the number of shots he takes. Here’s the thing about Butler: he’s never been a volume shooter. Even when he was “the man” in Chicago, the highest amount of shots he averaged in a season is 16.5.

That’s not to say that there aren’t times when Butler should be a little more selfish. But if anything, it should be encouraging given how unceremonious his departure from Minnesota was. He recognizes the talent that’s around him and is fitting in with it.

“He was particularly aggressive tonight,” JJ Redick said. “I thought every time that he felt like he had a matchup that he just went at that person’s neck basically. He made plays. He ended up with [seven assists] so it wasn’t just scoring the ball, it was driving, creating havoc. Just a level of aggression he’s shown that at times for us and we’d love to see that every night for sure.”

While much has been made about his offensive output, there have been a few troubling moments on defense. Butler came to the Sixers with a reputation of being one of the best two-way wings in the game, but there’s been a few occasions where he’s failed to keep the game in front of him.

Friday was not one of those nights. In fact, this may have been the best overall performance Butler has had as a Sixer.

“I just go out there and do what I’m asked to do for the most part, to tell you the truth,” Butler said. “Play with a little bit of energy, guard, gamble a lot, and mess up on those gambles the majority of the time, but I just think it’s fun. It’s definitely fun to win, but it’s fun when everybody’s playing like that.”

When the Sixers are rolling, they’re playing fast and they’re moving the ball. When Butler is rolling, it’s normally in pick-and-roll and iso situations. But that certainly isn’t a bad thing. Come playoff time, they’ll need to be able to play both ways.

By the way, the playoffs start in mid-April, which means the weather should be decent.

That’s good news for Butler and the Sixers.

“Snow gone. We good,” Butler said. “I’ll be ready to rock.”

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James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option and become a free agent, his agent, Scott Nichols from Rize Management, confirmed Monday morning.

The news was first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Ennis’ player option was for $1.85 million.

According to Nichols, Ennis is seeking a more lucrative, multi-year deal. Nichols said Ennis, after being acquired by the Sixers in February in a trade with the Houston Rockets, enjoyed his stint in Philadelphia, and it’s possible he could return to the Sixers. 

“He’s built good relationships within his short time there with his teammates like Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid] and has found a quiet leadership role there, too,” Nichols told NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Ennis talked at his exit interview last Monday about the close friendship he’s developed with Simmons, mentioning that Simmons talked him into getting a Cane Corso dog, the same type of dog Simmons has. 

Ennis boosted his stock during the postseason as a key member of the Sixers’ bench, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 11 playoff games. During the regular season, Ennis won the “tournament” for wing minutes off the bench in a landslide, beating out Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Kokrmaz.

“It was tough at first because it was unsure if I was going to play,” Ennis said. “Me and Jonathon were play one game, sit one game, so it was kind of rocky at first. But I got more games under my belt, got more comfortable, and it just took off like that. I appreciate the staff believing in me, Elton Brand bringing me here and Coach [Brett] Brown allowing me to play.”

At 28 years old, Ennis has already played for six teams. The Sixers, if they’re willing to offer a deal that Ennis and Nichols like, may offer the stability that’s been lacking during his career.

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The spotlight is on Elton Brand for his first NBA Draft, free agency as Sixers general manager

The spotlight is on Elton Brand for his first NBA Draft, free agency as Sixers general manager

Last year, the Sixers’ pre-draft process was, for some time, a mystery. As the team investigated then-president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo’s alleged use of burner Twitter accounts, the typical pre-draft routine was interrupted. Then, with the search underway to replace Colangelo, the Sixers took on the NBA Draft with Brett Brown as the interim general manager at the head of a collaborative leadership structure.

Elton Brand was a part of that group that helped shepherd the organization through the draft — and came away with a commendable haul of Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet and Shake Milton. 

Now, Brand is the man in charge. He attended the team’s first pre-draft workout on May 6 in Camden, New Jersey — the team will hold their second group workout Monday — and was at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this past week. The draft is a month away and then, soon enough, the Sixers will shift into free agency mode.

Brand said at his end-of-season press conference Tuesday that he’s looking forward to it all. 

I’m excited. We have a great group. Dynamic core. I look forward to being the GM for the first time going into free agency, going into the draft. We were in [Game 7] until the last shot to go into overtime and win and get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Disappointed we didn’t get there, but highly optimistic and I’m proud of what we've done. I look forward to this offseason. I know we’re going to grow and get better.

Things change rapidly in professional sports, but let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that, even by the warped standards of the Sixers, it’s been quite a year.

Brown famously proclaimed on draft night that the team was “star hunting, or star developing.” The “star hunting” part ended up falling on Brand, since the Sixers’ two biggest summer acquisitions under Brown were Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler. Brand later traded away both players in the early-morning, pre-deadline deal for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic that confirmed, if there was any lingering doubt, his willingness to be bold.

Though Brand didn’t hold much back in his first attempt at lifting the Sixers to title contention, he gave himself ample flexibility this offseason. The Sixers have more free agents than players under contract for next year, and they have five draft picks, tied with Atlanta for the most of any team. There’s no undoing the moves he made in his first season, but Brand has the choice to fundamentally reshape the Sixers again if he’d like.

Another path Brand could take is paying what’s necessary to bring back Harris and Butler and figuring out the rest at the margins. (Regardless, upgrading at backup center will be a priority.) It’s also very possible Brand tries to find a middle road.

Owner Josh Harris said Tuesday he’s comfortable going into the luxury tax, though Brand added, “We’re going to be fiscally responsible. We’re not just going to be jumping into the luxury tax with the moves we make.”

Brand will, of course, have a team to support him with all the minutiae of the salary cap — trade exceptions, the mid-level exception, you name it — in his first offseason. After experiencing a bizarre last summer in a peripheral role, Brand is in the limelight. 

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