Before Jimmy Butler was traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Philadelphia 76ers, I viewed him as a player who is clearly very good, but as one that I wouldn’t want on the Sixers because he would ruin “The Process” with his brash, outspoken, and seemingly bothered reputation. Kind of how like Terrell Owens and Donovan McNabb had their issues and it made a good team into a bad one. Here the Sixers are, going into game five against the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and I have to say that I was wrong about Butler’s reputation being bad for Philadelphia. In fact, I think he is the spark that this particular team needs in clutch games. Whether that is because he shakes away from the Boston Celtics to hit a buzzer beating jump shot or because of the way that he holds his teammates accountable for their off court and on court performance, Butler’s presence in the locker room has kept the Sixers in the hunt for the NBA Finals.
In parts of this current Philadelphia 76ers versus Toronto Raptors series, Jimmy Butler was not only the offensive leader of the team, but he was asserting his position as a team leader. He motivates Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, “we’re not going to win without you guys, you have to be ready to attack at any point in time,” and even coaches Simmons, “if he has the ball in transition. Ben, don’t pass the ball in transition. Attack every single time.” That is following the Raptors tying the series back up as the Sixers head back to Toronto for a game five. Not only did I see that Butler needed a better team culture fit from where he was in Minnesota, but I saw that he might have even found his perfect fit here in Philadelphia.
Recently, Brett Brown felt the same way, “we talk a lot about trying to play to mirror the spirit of the city – this is Philadelphia – and there is a toughness that he has that I think reflects the spirit of the city.” In a series where someone has to routinely keep up with Kawhi Leonard, Butler has been doing his best to tighten the margin. In game four, the Sixers lost a winnable game, but Butler still had twenty-nine points.
If this is the Philadelphia 76ers not working on all cylinders for a game, they still almost pulled off a third consecutive win. Heading back to Toronto for game five is tough, but the Sixers already took a game from there too. The leadership and toughness of Jimmy Butler will have to be enough to force a game six in Philadelphia to close the series. The Sixers must win game five. The big question mark since the Sixers started the post season has been the game day health status of Joel Embiid. In game two, the Sixers won in Toronto and Embiid, himself, briefed during the post-game press conference that he had diarrhea.
Then, he alerts Brett Brown nine hours before game four, that he may not be able to play because he was ill. These are two outliers in comparison to his stretch of time missing games due to his knee. Still, everything Butler relayed to “The Process” is right. The Sixers losing Embiid is a giant disadvantage, so he has to play. It is vital to the success of the Sixers in this series against The Raptors. Butler has also held Embiid accountable in interviews, referring to his condition in game four, that he would want Embiid back “just the same.” Butler knows how sick Embiid is just by looking at him, but he also knows that Embiid wants to be on the court too, so as a leader, he enables that because it is the playoffs and the stakes are raised. Not only has Butler become a key cog in the Sixers system, but he displays a great bond with the star players.
Ben Simmons sang the praises of Jimmy Butler as well, “He’s been phenomenal this whole series. He’s been a great defender,” and more importantly, “and keeping everybody’s head high, so he’s been a great leader this series.” The reason why that is so important is because not only do you have fans realizing that Butler motivating and holding the team accountable is powerful, but this is supported by the people around him the most. Simmons actually uses the word “leader” to describe Butler.
Brett Brown is aware of the fighting spirit that Butler plays with to keep the Philadelphia 76ers playoff hopes alive. Brown may even be thanking Butler for keeping his head coaching job, as seems the daily discussion on Philadelphia sports radio. If everyone that counts can see the positive in Butler being a returning factor for the Sixers to continue success, then give me a reason why he isn’t wearing twenty-three for Philadelphia next season.
I will even argue this: if the Philadelphia 76ers defeat the Toronto Raptors in this playoff series, Jimmy Butler’s stock would increase to that of Kawhi Leonard. When you are in pursuit of a championship, the “here and now” is what matters. If Philadelphia makes it to the next round, Butler, in my opinion, becomes more valuable than Leonard. Sure, Leonard is prolific scorer and three-point shooter, but it’s the hustle statistics such as rebounds and steals along with defense that gets my attention. Butler plays with a mean streak and I’m a big fan.
The Sixers had the opportunity to land Leonard at an earlier point too, but Butler’s play didn’t make passing on that opportunity a bad move. There is a very short list of players who can provide that kind of assuring feeling after passing on a possible trade for Leonard. Clearly, he has been the most valuable addition to the Sixers all season and if this is how he helps elevate the team in his time in Philadelphia so far, I think the Sixers need to make it a priority to bring back Jimmy “Buckets.”
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports