Jimmy Butler has forced his way onto the Philadelphia 76ers after demanding a trade from former team Minnesota Timberwolves. It sets up an intriguing superteam in the East.
While the trade seems to present Butler with a far more functional environment, the move is not without pressure. He needs to win big, and to learn to coexist with two other established stars, to restore his tattered reputation.
After publicly agitating for a trade and sparking intense, franchise-destabilising speculation over where he would end up, Butler was eventually dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers along with Justin Patton in exchange for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round draft pick.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) November 13, 2018
Philadelphia get a star in Jimmy Butler, but there are question marks over his demeanour
A player of almost ferocious intensity, Butler is regarded as one of the league’s best two-way talents. There are unanswered questions, however, around his impact on team chemistry after an ill-tempered stay in Minnesota where he reportedly grew disgusted with two young teammates, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
The finger-pointing and feuding was not a first in his career; he had been traded to the Timberwolves after relations with his first team, the Chicago Bulls, fell into acrimony.
After shocking the Timberwolves by requesting a trade on the eve of the season starting, Butler has been in and out of the team and has maintained a sullen attitude towards his teammates and the organisation at large.
In one particularly fractious episode, he turned a training session into a media circus when he cursed out other Timberwolves players and loudly informed Scott Layden, the team’s General Manager: “You f***ing need me, Scott! You can’t win without me.”
— The Ringer (@ringer) November 13, 2018
Jimmy Butler: “I don’t think I’m a bad teammate”
Addressing the media for the first time as a 76er, Butler played down concerns that he would again have a very public falling out with his colleagues.
“I don’t think I’m a bad teammate,” he said. “But people get whatever they want to say out. I think I’m an incredible human being, teammate, and I will show that to the guys here.”
On paper, the trade sets Philadelphia up as a likely Eastern Conference finalist, bringing together as it does three of the league’s best 20 players.
Yet Butler’s fit alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, both strong personalities and high-usage players who are accustomed to enjoying an outsized influence on the team’s offence, may be tricky.
While Butler reportedly castigated the Timberwolves’ youth brigade for their lack of nous on defence, both Embiid and Simmons are instinctive, long-limbed defensive menaces, potentially eliminating one major source of the frustration that has plagued Butler.
Jimmy Butler doesn't think he was "that big of a problem" in Timberwolves locker room 😂 😂
— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) November 13, 2018
Acquiring Butler was an educated gamble on Philadelphia’s part
From Philadelphia’s perspective, they have obtained a hugely valuable piece for a relatively low cost. Of the outgoing players, Saric and Covington were smart role players, albeit without anywhere near the upside of Butler. Bayless is now very much an end-of-the-bench type veteran and was mostly included in the trade for salary-matching purposes.
Butler’s contract expires at the end of this campaign, meaning the 76ers are free to cut bait with him if he doesn’t fit.
The stakes are higher for Butler; at season’s end he will become eligible for a max contract worth somewhere in the vicinity of US$190 million for five years, depending on where the NBA’s salary cap is set for next season. But teams will be wary of mortgaging the future of their franchise for him if he again proves a toxic locker-room presence.
Butler is scheduled to play his first game for his new team on Wednesday 14 October local time, against the Orlando Magic.
Header image credit: Shinya Suzuku