When the Sixers traded for Jimmy Butler in November, they needed him like Bryan Colangelo needs extra starch in his collar. Two game-winners in eight days proved that. What you make of Butler’s play of late is arguable, whether he’s simply doing what the coaches have asked — as he’s said repeatedly — or he’s caught in some funk as country-music-loving, minivan-riding, Neymar fans are known to do. Either way, the time for duality is over.
What the Sixers need now with eight games left in the season and a tenuous hold on the third seed in the East is the Butler who once scored 40 points in a half with the Bulls, breaking Michael Jordan’s 27-year-old record with the team, and not a black Tim McGraw — although according to his teammates, he is humble and kind. Just ask Shake Milton.
Shake Milton said Jimmy Butler was the first guy to text him when he broke his hand in early Feb & was checking in on him while he was w/ the @blue_coats.— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) March 27, 2019
Shake says Jimmy has been super helpful in providing feedback (both the good & the bad!)
Jimmy: “He’s got some game.” pic.twitter.com/BYFEviNhUE
I was convinced Butler was the answer to the Sixers’ fluorescent need of a player who could create his own shot and lock down the opposing team’s best player, especially after hearing him express his desire to simply win, as a guest on JJ Redick’s podcast in December.
I was even more enthralled after listening to him on Chris Haynes’ podcast in which he recanted cutting his teeth in a tough love environment with the 50-win Bulls and MVP Derrick Rose during his rookie season. I thought his defense and scoring would force the Sixers to give him a max contract this summer (he currently has a year left on his deal with a player option worth just under $20 million). But just like Tony told Manolo in the movie Scarface, “The eyes chico, they never lie.”
My eyes are telling me that this isn’t the same guy who led the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring (he’s now tied for 10th on that list at 6.7 ppg). His body language is off. He’s not as aggressive on the offensive or defensive end, but if I’m honest, one clutch bucket can make you forget all that.
The Sixers ranked last in the league in 2017-18 in fourth-quarter offensive rating and were near the bottom again this season before Butler’s arrival. I think he and Tobias Harris both need to be on the team next season. Harris is 26, can score without getting plays called for him and is having a borderline 50-40-90 season. Back up the Brinks truck.
If Butler opts out (as he would be smart to do in order to secure another big money deal), I’m not offering him anything more than a three-year deal with a team option after two. He turns 30 before the start of next season and has played an average of 45 games over the last three seasons partly because of his all-out playing style.
If Butler can turn it on in the postseason and be the stalwart two-way player Sixers fans long for, the team could be destined for the Eastern Conference finals and beyond. A Butler who simply blends in for three quarters and turns it up in the fourth is a nice novelty to have but could be the split hoof on a championship pedigree thoroughbred.
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