76ers

He's not perfect, but Jimmy Butler is worth the risk for Sixers in free agency

76ers

Jimmy Butler is flawed. Even he would tell you that. He’s grated teammates in the past with his uncompromising personality, looks nothing like a star in certain offensive schemes and has an extensive injury history.

Flaws and all, Butler is a player the Sixers should be willing to commit a lot of money to (up to the maximum of $190 million), and for a lot of years (up to five, which only they can offer), if their competition demands it. Retaining Butler for a bargain would obviously be preferable to giving him five years and $190 million, though, given the way he boosted his stock in the postseason, they very well may need to pay him the max. 

The concerns about Butler’s locker-room presence are fair in the context of his acrimonious exits from Chicago and Minnesota. All indications, however, are that he’s formed strong relationships with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Brett Brown (see story). Simmons and Embiid have both glowed about how Butler has facilitated their growth as leaders.

Butler also appears to have genuine respect for his teammates. He had a lot of fun in Philadelphia as well, another element that was evidently missing with the Timberwolves. 

“What hurts most about this loss is we had a great group of guys that would ride for one another,” Butler said at his exit interview Monday. “It was special. We enjoyed playing with each other. You couldn’t mess with anybody on the team because somebody was always going to be there, in your face. But to think that this roster might not be the exact same next year, that’s what really hurts.”

 

The worries about the heavy minutes Butler has logged and the injuries he’s suffered are valid, too. However, there wouldn’t be a burden on Butler to play 40 minutes every night alongside Simmons, Embiid and, potentially, Tobias Harris. Butler averaged 33.2 minutes in his 55 regular-season games with the Sixers, his lowest since the 2012-13 season. The Sixers have the freedom to manage his load in the regular season and be cautious with injuries to ensure they get the best version of “Playoff Jimmy.”

It is very possible that Butler’s play would decline in the fourth and fifth year of a long-term contract. With the Sixers shooting for a title now, that’s a sensible risk. If Butler can help lead the Sixers to a championship at 31 years old, the trade-off of him being expensive and diminished at 34 years old would be worth it.

As we expected when he first arrived, the on-court fit with Butler wasn’t perfect. He prefers pick-and-rolls and isolations and thrives in those settings, while Brown had built his offensive system around ball and player movement. Butler often faded into the background for the first three quarters of a game, relegated to a passive role, before taking command in the fourth quarter.

But Brown, Butler and the Sixers eventually identified and began to hone a few things that work. The potential of the Butler-Embiid pick-and-roll is immense, and it’s been clear since their early days together how dangerous Simmons and Butler can be in tandem when the Sixers push the ball.

Butler cleans up familiar weaknesses for the Sixers with perimeter defense and turnovers. His 6.9 turnover percentage was the lowest of any Sixers regular. And, as “the adult in the room,” he’s one player you can depend on for tenacious effort. If the Sixers want to avoid the exasperating inconsistency we saw this season, the stability of retaining Butler and the impact of having a competitor like him can’t hurt.

No, he doesn’t have a spotless past, and there are legitimate questions about his future, but Butler’s imperfections shouldn’t obscure his value. Elton Brand took a big risk in acquiring him, and he’d be smart to take another to keep him.

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