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November 27, 2019

Jimmy Butler believes Sixers teammates didn't work as hard as him last season

Jimmy Butler always seems to have thoughts about other people's work ethic, and after getting boat raced by the Sixers last Saturday, Yahoo! Sports appears to believe now is the time to ask for his thoughts on the competitive edge of last year's Sixers team.

Here is the noteworthy exchange between Butler and Yahoo's Vincent Goodwill, transcribed in its entirety.

Goodwill: Did you feel like everybody in Philadelphia was working as hard as you were, recognizing the opportunity you had in front of you last spring?"

Butler: No. But everybody don't do that, everybody don't work like that, that's just what it is. I've learned that over the years, and is there something wrong with it? No, there's not.

Goodwill: Yes there is.

Butler: No there's not. There's not.

Goodwill: If you're supposed to be chasing a championship, everybody should be pulling in that same direction, everybody should be as dedicated.

Butler: Yeah but is everybody playing this game for a championship? 

Goodwill: What are they playing for?

Butler: I don't know, the money, the houses, the cars, the fame. There are so many other things people play for.

Goodwill: Even in the playoffs, you're not playing for that common goal?

Butler: You could just be on a talented team and you end up in the playoffs. That does not mean you're in it to win a championship.

You can judge for yourself who the target of that claim might be. Given the relationship between Butler and Embiid, I would simply suggest you look elsewhere on the roster if you want to go down that road.

Butler's overarching message is correct. Everyone's dedication to winning is not the same, whether that is in a professional sports setting or at your typical 9-to-5 office job. Some people are there to keep their heads down, punch the clock, and get paid, others are trying to grow and build and make whatever sacrifices are necessary to win.

Did the Sixers get eliminated from last year's playoff series because they couldn't find a playable backup behind Joel Embiid? Yes. Did they also get eliminated because there was no meaningful growth from Ben Simmons after their playoff defeat vs. Boston a year prior, no counters for Embiid against the sort of center who always flummoxes him? Also, yes.

Yet I have trouble with the fetishization of the "hard worker" and using that as a means to criticize athletes, whether it's Simmons and Embiid or anyone else. There are a lot of people who work hard and don't make meaningful improvements in life, either because they're not capable of it or because they're not making smart use of their time. People only care about hard work if it manifests in the product they want, and no one really has any idea how much time is put in if they're not there to witness it.

For example, if a team sat down at exit interviews and told a fringe rotation player they needed him to make the leap from average to elite as a spot-up shooter to get minutes, only for that player to spend the entire summer working on their handle in pick-and-rolls, no one in the organization looks at that guy and thinks, "Wow, he worked his butt off." They think he has poor listening and time management skills, even if they know it took a lot of work for him to be the player he showed up to camp as.

Everyone seemed to understand Simmons' shot is a foundational problem for the team, and he has certainly put in work on it on top of renewing his defensive commitment this season. But the story remains the same on the floor, and he will not commit to shooting more to help the team (yet). 

Everyone seemed to understand Embiid had work to do to reach the next level, and he showed up to camp boasting of losing a bunch of weight, and his reads out of double-teams have been vastly improved. But he still returns from a game or two off looking as if he is fighting his own conditioning, and he is still unprepared to beat big, strong centers who he should be flying past.

Hard work is not necessarily good or meaningful work. Jimmy Butler of all people would know that if he showed any self-awareness. 

If the man who constantly claimed all he wants to do is win actually lived up to that claim, he would take far more catch-and-shoot threes than he does now or did in Philadelphia. It's a skill he has been good at for years, but it's one that necessitates taking the ball out of his hands and allowing someone else to run the offense, which he has rejected for years across several franchises. It's easy to ask other people to sacrifice and buy in to win without actually doing it yourself.

You can watch the full interview in the video below. In the meantime, I will go out of my way to remind everyone it is a requirement of my job to work holidays and weekends and that makes me better than you.

(Note: it absolutely does not make me better than you.)

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