PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – It was the middle of November and the Philadelphia 76ers had an 8-6 record and still trying to find their way. Then came the trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler and it instantly made the Sixers a title contender.
With the season over after a devastating Game 7 loss to the Toronto Raptors, now begs the question, does Butler deserve a max contract?
Many Philadelphia sports fans consider this decision as the biggest free agent decision since Reggie White in 1993.
Butler, this season, averaged 19 points, five rebounds and four assists while shooting nearly 50% from the floor.
From the time Butler joined the Sixers, the team went 43-27 to end the season. They locked up the third seed in the top-loaded Eastern Conference and were a Kawhi Leonard quadruple doink last-second shot away from a possible Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
“Isn’t this what ‘The Process’ was all about?” CBS3’s sports director Don Bell said.
The Philadelphia fan base went through four years of losing basketball to acquire assets to lead them to this moment, when they would be able to attract big names through free agency and become a perennial power house in the East.
Butler, who was responsible for carrying the load in a fair share of games this year, will more than likely decline his player option for next season. With that decision, the Sixers will able to offer him a five-year contract worth close to $190 million.
But will that be enough to sway Butler to stay?
Multiple reports have surfaced that LeBron James has reached out to Butler about joining forces with the Lakers in the Western Conference. The Lakers are not able to offer Butler as much money as the Sixers, but money does not seem to be the main driver factor for Butler.
“Knock on wood, I will get a max contract no matter where I go,” Butler said at his end-of-the-year press conference.“You always want to be able to win. I think that’s key, for sure. You’re looking at coaches, you’re looking at the city. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
By looking at the numbers, the trade helped the Sixers’ scoring. When they acquired Butler, the Sixers were 21st in the NBA in offensive efficiency rating, averaging 105 points. They finished eighth in the league, averaging 113 points.
Butler certainly played a role in that.
There were concerns when Butler first arrived there would be a clash with the Sixers’ two rising stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
Coming to Philadelphia, Butler had a reputation of being harsh on young players, but he brought grittiness and more importantly, playoff experience to a team that was depending on two players that are still very young.
Another reason many feel re-signing Butler is a must is the question around Embiid’s health.
When Embiid’s healthy, the Sixers’ trio of Simmons, Embiid and Butler appeared to be elite in a league in which multiple stars are necessary.
“In today’s NBA you need at least three stars to win,” Bell said. “The league doesn’t reward young, inexperienced teams with titles.”
Butler quickly won over Sixers head coach Brett Brown, who referred to the veteran as the “adult” in the room several times in the playoffs. Butler displayed a win-at-all-costs mentality to mesh with his willingness to take over a game in its biggest moments.
“He emerged to be a leader,” Brown said. “He is a different thinker, for sure, and I say that with respect. We get he cares, we get he’s highly competitive, we understand. I think there is a connection with his spirit and physicality to that city that mirrors each other.”
Sixers fans haven’t shied away from voicing their desire for the team to offer Butler a max deal.
Sixers general manager Elton Brand seems excited to take on this challenge head-on as the city watches closely as free agency approaches.
When asked at his end-of-the-year press conference, Brand said re-signing Butler was “absolutely” in the team’s plans.
NBA free agency begins June 30 at 6 p.m. – a new wrinkle this summer.
Will that bring a new beginning for the Sixers or a dramatic end to a short-lived marriage with Butler?
Only time will tell.