When the Sixers’ football counterpart, the Philadelphia Eagles, finally acquired wide receiver Terrell Owens during the 2004 offseason, Philly fans were beyond ecstatic. The team had their franchise QB in Donovan McNabb, their beloved head coach in Andy Reid, and they felt all they were truly missing was that elite playmaker on the outside.
We all know how the T.O. story ended up playing out. The Hall of Fame wideout got off to a monstrous start to his Eagles career, establishing himself as one of the greatest pass-catchers to ever wear the midnight green. Despite fracturing his fibula in December of the ‘04 season, Owens ground through and ended up playing in that year’s Super Bowl against the New England Patriots.
In typical gritty Philly fashion, Owens finished the game with 122 yards while playing on one leg. Despite laying it all on the line for the franchise and the city of Philadelphia, the organization went silent when Owens began asking for a pay raise. Owens’ quarterback failed to stand up for his WR1, and it eventually resulted in a very messy divorce between the two parties. It was a disastrous situation and one that most fans wish the team had handled far differently.
Right around 15 years later and it looks like Philadelphia sports teams haven’t learned their lesson quite yet.
While Jimmy Butler likely isn’t a future Hall of Famer like T.O. was, he is undoubtedly a “star” in today’s NBA. The Sixers had to give up a fair amount of capital to land him during the 2019 season, and the impact he had was undeniable. The team went all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals with Butler on the team, and his “alpha dog” mentality to the game of basketball gave him a spot in fan’s hearts everywhere.
Similar to Owens in ‘04, Butler wanted to be paid appropriately this past offseason, and the Sixers opted to withhold that much-deserved paycheck. Rumors circulated heavily that Butler’s departure in the offseason was due to Brett Brown calling the shots or even Ben Simmons displaying frustration, but ultimately it appears that the team’s analytics backed “collective front office” (led by Alex Rucker) made the final call in pursuing Tobias Harris and Al Horford over Butler.
Initially, a lot of analysts and writers (myself included) felt this was the correct move. Butler’s lack of elite floor spacing was a burden to Joel Embiid and Simmons on occasion, and his previously praised alpha dog mentality at times ruffled some feathers. While it was never really Harris versus Butler when it came to landing a max contract (the Sixers could have signed both), on paper Harris was the far better option moving forward as the team’s third scorer.
Less than one NBA season later and the decision to ignore Butler during the offseason has failed spectacularly. The Sixers are sat at home without a head coach, while Butler just finished leading a group of kids to a series sweep over the Indiana Pacers.
Losing Butler the way Philadelphia did stings. The fans adored him, Embiid loved him, and now he’s gone on to have far more success without the Sixers. While it’s never ideal to be that “jealous ex-girlfriend” when it comes to former athletes, guys like Butler and T.O. need to serve as a warning to future Philly organizations. Star players are hard to come by, so when you find one, you need to pay them the money they are worth (*cough cough* JT Realmuto).
Owens went on to have a Hall of Fame career without the Eagles and Butler’s Miami Heat appear to be trending in the right direction. If the Sixers ever do stumble upon a guy like Butler again, they need to compensate him accordingly, especially if that means putting some of the ego aside in the front office.
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