November 12, 2018
On Saturday afternoon, in the middle of a weekend filled with college and pro football, the 76ers stole the sports spotlight with a mammoth trade that also made a major statement.
They acquired All-Star swing man Jimmy Butler, and thus declared a welcome end to The Process. The Sixers aren’t waiting to challenge for an NBA championship any more. They’re going for it. Bravo to that.
In landing Butler and center Justin Patton from Minnesota for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a second-round pick, the Sixers finally brought in the third big star to join Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. They also invited into their happy home one of the most disruptive forces in sports.
That’s actually the part of the deal I like most, because it says the team is willing to do anything now to win. Butler has been making headlines in Minnesota, for all the wrong reasons. He has publicly lambasted the two young stars there, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, he has boycotted practice and he has demanded, loudly, a trade.
Butler’s story is one of the most compelling in all of sports. He was homeless at 13, a plight that he embraces because it made him want to succeed more, to make the most of his extraordinary talent. In other words, Jimmy Butler is an overachiever, now working in the sports city that most reveres effort.
The nexus of his troubles with his star teammates in Minnesota has a similar foundation. After outworking them one day in practice, he lashed out at Towns and Wiggins for being “soft.” Yes, he should have been more diplomatic about it, but the message was important, regardless of the volume. He wants to win.
Butler, who was also a malcontent in Chicago before his year in Minnesota, has no tolerance for the blasé attitude of NBA players, many of whom he sees as living a privileged life. He had no such luxury, and it shows in his determination to play hard all the time.
How hard? The 30th pick in the 2011 Draft, he is a four-time All-Star and has made the all-defensive team four times as well. He has exceeded all expectations – on the court with his fervor, off the court with his mouth.
Whether the Sixers want to admit it or not, it is my belief that the real GM of the team is coach Brett Brown, and it was his decision – not the titular GM Elton Brand – to bring Butler onto the roster. No one will have a bigger headache than Brown if Butler acts out again in his new city. The fact Brown is willing to accept that possibility is commendable.
From afar, days before his first game as a Sixer, the Jimmy Butler trade looks like a stroke of brilliance from a team that failed just a few months ago in an off-season dedicated to acquiring a third star. Before the Timberwolves gave up on Butler, they had turned down far better offers, including four first-round picks from Houston last summer. The trade was a steal.
The move by the Sixers was also an admission that Markelle Fultz will never be the player they hoped he would be when they moved up in the draft two years ago to crown him the top pick. In fact, it’s a pretty safe assumption that if Fultz keeps playing the way he has, Butler will tell him how soft he is. Given that it’s Butler, he will probably tell everybody.
Yes, there could be some chemistry issues putting Butler on a team that already has its alpha male, Embiid, and, yes, it will take some adjusting to incorporate Butler’s style into the offense, but all of it is worth the risk.
The Sixers just added a 20-points-per game scorer who plays tenacious defense and hates to lose. They now have a real chance to compete for the NBA championship.
What’s not to like?
• As the Phillies begin their pursuit of free agents Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, they are also begging teams to take off their hands GM Matt Klentak’s $60-million mistake, Carlos Santana. In fact, the word at the GM meetings last week was that Klentak will eat some of the $40 million left on the deal to allow Rhys Hoskins to return to first base. And now Klentak is supposed to wheel and deal for the two biggest free agents in a decade? Good luck with that.
• A story that slipped right past our Philadelphia media this month is that ex-Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. applied for the GM job with the Mets, eventually accepting an advisory position in their front office. The success of the young Phillies Amaro brought here before he was fired apparently has put him back on track to run another team. Given the choice between Amaro and Klentak, whom would you choose? It’s worth asking now, isn’t it?
• Flyers coach Dave Hakstol picked a very good time to start coaching more effectively. With his team winning five of the last six games, Hakstol has quieted his critics, just when a proven winner, Joel Quenneville, became available. Quenneville, fired by Chicago last week, has three Stanley Cups. Hakstol has none. You might want to keep an eye on this situation over the next couple of months.
• Howie Roseman hasn’t made many mistakes since he regained personnel power of the Eagles, but he made one last week. Roseman cut return artist and occasional wide receiver D’Andre Carter because it appeared that Darren Sproles was healthy. By the time Sproles went down again, Carter was gone, having been claimed by Houston. Bad decision.
• For some reason, the conduct of team medical staffs is never challenged the way we scrutinize coaches and players. The Sixers have failed for years in the treatment of their players, without a peep (except here) of criticism. Now it’s the Eagles’ turn. The epidemic of hamstring issues, and especially the handling of Darren Sproles, by the Eagles’ new medical staff should be a matter of deep concern. In a sports world filled with winners and losers, the Eagles’ doctors and trainers have flunked this year. That’s the truth.