May 23, 2019
We are still a month away from NBA free agency officially opening, but that's not going to stop anyone from gossiping about where big name free agents may end up. It just so happens the Sixers have two of those, and Jimmy Butler in particular seems to have caught the eye of one LeBron James.
At least that's the word if you believe ESPN's Brian Windhorst, who appeared on Pardon The Interruption Thursday evening to discuss the comings and goings of the NBA.
I don't think LeBron's in position to be too picky. From what I understand, he has already begun the recruiting process. I've heard he has had contact with Kawhi Leonard, I've heard he has had contact with Jimmy Butler, there is no tampering enforcement by players. And while Magic Johnson — the guy who got in trouble for tampering before — is no longer there, LeBron is tamperer in chief of the Lakers right now.
On its own, this means very little. Butler and LeBron may very well have had discussions, but that doesn't necessarily mean Butler wants to go to Los Angeles to play with him. They are pretty far apart on the personality scale, to say nothing of their fit together on the court.
In fact, previous reports — albeit old reports — have suggested Butler may not want to play with LeBron no matter what team he's suiting up for. Back when ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported about Butler's preferred destinations during the Timberwolves saga, it was said that the Los Angeles Clippers, New York Knicks, and Brooklyn Nets were the three teams at the top of his list. LeBron's presence in L.A. was reportedly seen as a deterrent for Butler.
Butler had once imagined playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, but LeBron James’ arrival as the franchise’s cornerstone made it less appealing for Butler in the prime of his career, league sources said.
Here's where things get interesting. That passage was included in the version of Wojnarowski's story that ran in mid-September, and can only be viewed through an archived version of that story from September 19th, 2018. By September 21st, LeBron's name had disappeared from the story entirely, with the focus of the story shifting to highlight Butler's supposed preference to go to the Clippers. It is nowhere to be found today.
Whether that means it was never quite true in the first place or removed for a specific reason is up for you to decide, but it is a wrinkle to consider here. It is certainly a different situation now than it was last September just based on LeBron getting personally involved in the process. Even if they aren't a perfect match, players in the league are going to pay attention if one of the best players in the league (and of all-time) comes calling.
It would not be surprising if Butler, or anyone else for that matter, might want to play in L.A. With all due respect to Philadelphia, a city I love and have lived around my entire life, you don't have to deal with cold weather or snow or a host of other drawbacks if you live and play in L.A. instead. Many of the league's best players end up spending their offseasons in Los Angeles anyway, which makes it a natural destination for free agents, basketball draw aside.
That being said, the Sixers have what I believe is an obviously better basketball situation for Butler if he is truly putting winning at the top of his priority list — and he makes a point to emphasize that often. LeBron is on the downslope of his career, while Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and to a lesser extent Tobias Harris still have room to grow and improve as Butler ages. None of the Lakers' prospects come close to sniffing Embiid's talent, and the gap between Simmons and say, Brandon Ingram, is also a pretty significant one.
On top of that, the Sixers have the ability to offer Butler an extra year of security in contract talks this summer, and perhaps that's enough on its own to convince him to stay. Having been put through the Tom Thibodeau meat grinder, Butler was subjected to plenty of wear and tear during his stops in Chicago and Minnesota, and securing another year of max money may be worth the peace of mind for him.
There will be a lot of rumors like this until Butler and/or Harris sign on the dotted line in July, so be sure to pace yourselves and remember to keep everything in perspective. The Sixers have the money, the winning upside, and the continuity to offer their big free agents. They have to trust that will be enough.
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