November 13, 2018
The Sixers dressed up their practice facility for the occasion, bringing out balloons, music, and what seemed like the entirety of their sales department to the floor of their practice facility, all in an effort to celebrate Jimmy Butler's arrival. Highlights of Butler's career played by the stage, showcasing his work from stints with Chicago, Minnesota, and Team USA. It was not a normal day in Camden.
Except for, well, Jimmy Butler. He showed up to his own introductory presser in a sweatsuit, looking like he was ready to come in for a workout, not an unveiling. That's how fast things have been moving for Butler, who told the assembled press his suit arrived late on Tuesday and forced him to show up in comfy clothes.
But when you're the new star in town, you can show up to your press conference however you want. And in around 25 minutes of time on Tuesday morning, Butler offered us all a window into who he is, what he sees, and where things are headed.
The story on Butler at this point of his career is as much about his personality as it is his play on the court. His ability to go out and impact a game is beyond reproach, but you can't say the same about his eagerness to mesh and get along with young talent. There have now been run-ins for him at both his NBA stops.
So with all sorts of speculation and reporting going back and forth on the matter, I wanted to give Butler the chance to clear the air on who he thinks he is as a person. And he was pretty clear in his dismissal of reporting that labeled him a malcontent or a bad locker room guy, saying he believes himself to be, "an incredible human being," which is quite a claim.
"You really wouldn't know who I am unless you're around me every day. And for the most part that's why I don't worry about what everybody says," said Butler. "I love my teammates. I don't think there's too many of them that will tell you I'm a bad teammate. People get whatever they want to say out, it is what it is. But I think I'm an incredible human being and teammate, and I'll show that to the guys that are here."
Color me skeptical on this front. Butler is absolutely a competitor and a hard worker, but eventually, it becomes hard to believe all the smoke isn't being produced by a fire. There are too many people plugged into the league, too many instances of clashing with people around him to suggest Butler is the ultimate good soldier.
Still, he'll have the chance to live up to his word here. He's playing with the best teammate he's ever had in Joel Embiid, and his two primary running mates are both guys who buy in and compete on defense. If nothing else, that will resonate with one of the league's steeliest defenders. And for whatever it's worth, GM Elton Brand suggested he heard good things from all the people he spoke to about Butler.
"In the locker room, they loved him. On the court, he's demanding, he wants to win. I can deal with that part, our organization can deal with that, our players can deal with that because they want to win. Talked to many of his teammates, it's like, 'He's great, we loved him, in the locker room. In the court he's demanding and he wanted to win, and he pushed me to be better' is what I was hearing," said Brand. "It was an easy call for me."
We are in the very beginning of the Jimmy Butler era in Philadelphia, and no one truly knows whether he's going to stay here beyond this season. If everything works out on the floor and in the locker room, it'll be a no-brainer decision to lock him up on a long-term deal. If not, things get a lot more complicated.
For now, the only thing that seems to matter to Butler is to go out and try to win championships.
"That's above any and everything. I think that's the reason why everybody plays this game," said Butler. "MVPs are great, scoring titles are great, Defensive Player of the Year [is] great, but that trophy and getting that ring, knowing that point in time you're the best team in the world, that's special. All I ever wanted to do is win, at any and every level. I have a new opportunity to do that here, and that's the goal. That will always be the goal."
This is probably the best evidence (in advance of playing together, anyway) that Butler may get along better with Embiid and Simmons than other young teammates he has partnered with. Both of those guys are miserable when the Sixers drop games; the usually jovial Embiid will talk in hushed tones and show the anguish on his face, while the notoriously short Simmons is even less interested in humoring reporters who live and die by locker-room quotes.
Butler consistently complimented the core pieces in place, noting that he thinks offense is going to come easy for this group. He believes with the tempo they play at and the unselfishness of the collective, everything will come naturally once they get reps together.
The will to win is definitely within this group. Whether that manifests in a positive manner or snowballs out of control when times are tough is up for debate. For now, all the right things are being said.
A common sentiment over the last few days has centered around what Butler's arrival means for the young guard. That's not misplaced, because it's going to trigger changes in the lineup and how they develop last year's No. 1 pick.
But anyone who is expecting Butler to come in and start berating Fultz from the get-go sounds like they're totally off-base.
He's a talented young player. I think that from what I can tell, a lot of things are mental. In this league, I think 90 percent of it is mental, if you think you can do something you really can. I know how hard he works because I'm in L.A., I know he comes by there and trains. I know some of the people that know him, and they tell me how great he wants to be. As long as he's going hard and giving his all out there every day, the guy has my respect. I just want him to go out there and play hard, be who he is, stick to his strengths, and I know he's just going to thrive.
In this case, Butler appears to be walking the walk of a good locker room guy for now. Whether this holds up if Fultz is a detriment to the team is another story, because if Butler's aforementioned quest to win is slowed down by a young guard who can't figure out a basic basketball concept like shooting, it'd be hard to hold it against him for being ticked off.
(We'll have some more about Fultz later this afternoon, after a discussion with Elton Brand held after the presser.)
One of the primary points of debate over the last two months centered around Butler's desire to leave. Why force your way away from a team featuring one of the league's most talented young players in Karl-Anthony Towns? Was it about money, was it about locker room issues, or was it about something else?
Those answer may never come. But in terms of what will keep him here, Butler let it be known that being cared about and winning games are at the front of his mind, not money.
I already got enough money to have me and my family set for the rest of my life. It's not about the money. I got to be able to love where I'm at and have a great chance to win a championship...This city is going to be absolutely amazing from the things that I've heard, obviously I've played here as an away team plenty. I love what Josh and Elton are doing, I think they're doing it the right way. That's what matters, the people that are around here and how everybody is treated because basketball is just one part of it. To know you're wanted and always going to be taken care of, your people are going to be taken care of. That's what matters most to me and a lot of other people in this league.
Incidentally, Philadelphia can now offer him the most money and future security of any team in the league. So while treating him like a priority will loom large, I can't imagine it will hurt to give him a huge payday.
"I don't do much to tell you the truth. I love dominoes, I do that probably more often than anything, some cards. I still love country music. I still do drive a minivan, so if Y'all see that rolling down the street, I'm probably in it. What else? That's basically it. That's all I got for you, that's me in a nutshell."
He's a man about his business. I think he's going to fit in around here just fine.
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