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June 14, 2019

Report: Jimmy Butler to decline option, Sixers will do 'whatever it takes' to keep him

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050619-JimmyButler-USAToday Bill Streicher/USA Today

Philadelphia 76ers guard Jimmy Butler (23) reacts after being fouled while driving for a shot against the Toronto Raptors during the fourth quarter in game four of the second round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center.

Sixers wing Jimmy Butler is expected to decline his option, according to a new report from Yahoo's Chris Haynes. That comes as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, or anyone who understands that more money is better than less money.

There are some important bits of reported intel within Haynes' story, however, so let's zoom in on those (as always, bold emphasis mine):

Philadelphia 76ers forward Jimmy Butler intends to decline his player option — barring an unforeseen change of circumstances — yet the Sixers remain adamant about doing whatever it takes to retain the star, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

...

Butler’s agent, Bernie Lee, has been resolute since Butler’s trade demand out of Minnesota that any teams interested in him would be competing with multiple maximum contract offers, and that market is revealing itself to be true.

The Los Angeles Lakers have genuine interest in acquiring Butler, sources said. [Yahoo Sports]

We can unpack those two primary ideas separately.

Doing, "whatever it takes" is pretty simple on the Sixers' side of things. They are far from the only team who can offer Butler a max contract, but they have a fifth year to offer Butler that no one else can provide to him. 

While I personally believe the security of a fifth year has been overvalued at times — once you get into hundreds of millions of dollars, I think personal preferences can matter more than that extra year — it is still a massive bonus unique for the Sixers in Butler negotiations.

If they are willing to take that plunge, that is as serious of a commitment as Butler could hope to get from an organization. The Sixers have been intentionally quiet about their plans for their free agents this summer, no doubt to preserve some leverage, but with some of the biggest names on the free agent market going down with serious injuries during the Finals, there are not exactly an abundance of options to replace the production of players like Butler and Tobias Harris should they go elsewhere.

The Butler-to-LA connection has been made already this offseason and dates all the way back to when Butler was still with the Timberwolves. He spends parts of his summers in Los Angeles, and California-based reporters have insisted he would sign with the Lakers in an instant should they offer him a max.

I'm less convinced on that front. Butler is the sort of guy who likes to march to the beat of his own drum and say how he feels in rather plain English. Whether he would fit cleanly in the LeBron James orbit is up for debate* — there have been intermittent rumors about Butler not wanting to play with James in the past, and there would be a clash of styles on and off of the court if they were to team up together.

*This is not at all an indictment of Butler, by the way. There are a ton of guys in the league who would prefer not to be under the shadow of a guy like LeBron, or who might not fit perfectly next to him as a personality.

There was a time late in the regular season where a long-term commitment at max salary felt a little crazy for either of Butler or Harris. The Sixers sputtered without Joel Embiid on the floor and with little incentive down the stretch of the regular season, and it bled into discussion about how much Butler was worth moving forward.

But as this year's playoffs unfolded, it became clear just how much of a difference-maker Butler could be in the highest leverage situations, and Toronto's Finals victory reinforced how close the Sixers were to the ultimate glory themselves. They have work left to do to fill out the roster and round them into a real-deal contender, but their top-end talent is formidable if they can keep the group together.

This is the first major domino to fall in Philadelphia's offseason, and unless they have a massive surprise planned for this summer, bringing Butler back should be at the top of this summer's priority list.


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