When Jimmy Butler steps in the room, it feels as if the whole world notices. His playful but confident personality is always put on full display and he flourishes at being the center of attention. Jimmy is an alpha by every definition of the word which is largely a reason why he has burned through 3 NBA teams already, drawing accusations for being a coach-killer and locker room distraction along the way.
Tobias Harris could not be more different from Jimmy Butler in this regard. While he does not talk about every chance like Jimmy seems to, Harris also has had to work his way up into the player that he is now. There is no doubt that Butler has fought through adversity that most couldn’t imagine. Tobias on the other hand was originally drafted by the Bucks and could not crack more than a handful of minutes or more than 5 points per game with the team.
Harris has played for 5 total teams in the 9 seasons that he has been in the NBA. Despite this, it is tough to find any other player or coach that will say a bad thing about Tobias Harris. He is a genuine guy who has developed into a leader on this year’s Sixers team as well as being 2nd on the team in scoring during the regular season. While Tobias is a great guy who brings many positives to the team, he is not capable of being the guy that pushes the team over the hump to win a championship.
There was great excitement when Jimmy Butler joined the Sixers. He was the guy who was supposed to teach the young squad how to win and push them over the hump. His ruggedness and hard-nosed style was expected to fit right in with the Philly attitude. It seemed so promising that Jimmy would play out the final year of his contract before signing a new max deal. The Sixers would be reserving multiple dates on Broad Street as they racked up championship trophies and all would be right in the world. In reality, the Sixers now sit dangerously close to NBA purgatory, which is what started the entire Process in the first place, while Jimmy Butler and the Heat look ahead to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Let me start by saying that I like Jimmy. With prime Derrick Rose as one of my all-time favorite players, I watched many Bulls games during the time Jimmy spent there. After working his way out of an extremely traumatic upbringing, Butler fought all the way to being the 30th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft. From here he grew from a guy with very little expectations to one of the most impactful players on the court on a nightly basis. He made a name for himself by not backing down from guys like Paul George and LeBron James.
It was also noteworthy to watch him butt heads with D-Rose as time went on and a major fallout with the Bulls ensuing after coach Tom Thibodeau was fired. Butler publicly criticized new-hire Fred Hoiberg for not coaching the team hard enough, which also became a trend throughout his career. After Thibodeau took a new job as Coach and President of Basketball Operations with the Timberwolves, Butler eventually sweet-talked his way to the T-Wolves via a draft-night trade.
The theme of teammate trouble followed Butler to Minnesota. He had several confrontations with members of the team about effort and their commitment to the team, primarily Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins. After a tense off-season, Butler officially requested a trade from the T-Wolves after rejecting their max extension offer. This led to the famous practice where Jimmy Butler beat the starters with the 3rd stringers while hurling expletives at T-Wolves GM Scott Layden about how bad the team needed him to win. This seemed to be the final straw before he ended up in Philly.
All Jimmy wants people to know about him is how hard he works, how committed he is, and how bad he wants to win. Jimmy has a presence on the court up there with the biggest superstars of the league. Butler has no problem stepping into the spotlight and throwing up a shot with the game on the line. Jimmy even knocked down 2 game-winning shots in his first 10 games with the Sixers.
In the years leading up to joining the Sixers, Butler proved to be the most efficient player in the league during crunch time. With the team either down 1 or with the game tied with 10 seconds or less left, Jimmy shot 7-14 and tallied 25 points during this time. He is followed by Russell Westbrook who scored 22 points on 7 of 23 shot attempts during this timeframe and scenario. Kahwi, LeBron, Steph Curry, KD, and James Harden all also make the shortlist but none of them had a shooting percentage higher than 41.5% on less made shots than Jimmy.
In the six seasons Jimmy spent with the Bulls, the team averaged 46 wins per year and won 2 playoff series. In the 3 seasons since he has left, the Bulls have averaged 23 wins with no playoff appearances and little life has been felt on the team. In his time with Minnesota, the team was 40-28 in games Butler played in and 11-15 in games that he did not. The team made the playoffs the full year Jimmy was there and won just 19 games the first full season after he was shipped off. As you read this Jimmy looks ahead to the Eastern Conference Finals with the Heat as the Sixers sit home after an extremely disappointing season and playoff exit.
While all this makes Jimmy sound awesome, the fact of the matter is that he still has not won anything. Butler went to Tomball high school in Texas, where he was the MVP on a decent team and was lightly recruited. He then went to Tyler Junior College where he excelled on a team that looked terrific in the regular season before being knocked out of the quarterfinals of the playoffs. In the 3 years he was at Marquette, the team went into the NCAA tournament as the 6th seed twice and 11th seed once. He made it to the Sweet 16 one year, the round of 32 another, and were upset in the opening round by Washington in the other year. In the NBA, Jimmy is now at the best position going into the playoffs he has ever been and this is now tied for the deepest he has gone into the playoffs.
Whether it was butting heads with Brett Brown, Ben Simmons not liking his direct in-your-face leadership style, or simply Jimmy believing the team was not ready to win, the bottom line is that his time in Philly did not work out. His confrontational approach was clearly not a match with the team (with the exception of Embiid) and Jimmy is now in Miami where he claims he can fully be himself. Comparing the Sixers and Heat is painful. Talent-wise, the Sixers are head-and-shoulder above the Heat. Yet the Heat have a much more effective offensive system and a mentality that is hard not to root for. Jimmy Butler is one of the most polarizing players in the NBA, yet he may have finally found the right supporting cast in the Jimmy vs the World tour.
Tobias Harris is not short-tempered. He is not a guy that wants to be the center of attention, nor does he carry the same level of presence on the court that surrounds other players in his pay grade. He is a consistent scorer (playoffs excluded), shoots the ball well, and can be an effective floor spacer. Tobias carries himself in a quiet, but confident way. That says a lot more about him than his words tend to.
Harris also showed great growth this year by stepping into the leadership role that no one else on the team seemed willing to. Tobi is about as far from the previous leadership style that Jimmy Butler showed that it is possible to get. Tobias is not the type of guy who will yell in your face and question your commitment. However, Tobias has been extremely important in keeping the team on track through this difficult season.
Tobias led several zoom calls with the team throughout quarantine and in preparation for the bubble. He brought in guest speakers to discuss the racial injustice in our country and led a message to “Educate Yourself” throughout the return to play. Tobias enjoys sipping wine and talking with his teammates and is an avid reader who even has a book club. Harris is an easy-going guy who was handed sky-high expectations through no fault of his own.
Harris came to Philly in a trade that cost the Sixers a pretty penny. The haul of Landry Shamet, two first-round picks, and more showed that the Sixers had high hopes for the impact Tobi could bring. Being traded is nothing new to Harris as he has been traded a whopping four times already in his career. Throughout his nine years in the league, Tobi has made the playoffs three times, two of these years were with the Sixers in the heartbreaking loss to the Raptors and the more recent embarrassing sweep by the Celtics. His only other appearance was in 2015 when he played for the Clippers. That year the Clips landed the eight seed and were swept by LeBron James and the Cavs.
Tobias Harris is a very good basketball player. He averages 15.9 points and 6.1 rebounds throughout his career and 19.2 points as well as 7.2 rebounds during his time in Philly. However in his time in the playoffs he has averaged 15.6 points and while shooting 30.8% from three-point range over the past two seasons. In this most recent series against the Celtics, this dropoff in play was put on full blast. In the first three games of the Celtics series, Harris averaged 14.3 points while shooting a combined 0-10 from downtown. While he did have a solid overall season and came back from a scary-fall in game four to complete a pretty good performance, this lack of consistency is inexcusable.
After inking the biggest contract of his career, Tobias is still due over $147 million over the next four years. While the front office may have written a check that Harris is unable to cash, major production was and still is expected from him. It is fairly certain that Tobias will be back in a Sixers uniform next season. It is unlikely any team will be motivated enough to add Harris that they would be willing to jump through the salary cap hoops that could even make the deal possible. Not to mention the bad PR look on the Sixers for trading the guy they just made the highest-paid player in franchise history just last offseason. So Harris will likely continue as the third option in the offense and pursue a championship alongside Simmons and Embiid next year and beyond.
To Lead or Not to Lead?
Jimmy is gone. That experiment already failed. Tobias is now just one year into a max deal and, while signs aren’t entirely promising, there is still some life in this attempt. What is most concerning is the lack of impact the leadership attempts have made on the team by both these respected players.
Jimmy’s in-your-face, no-filter personality and leadership style led to a tense locker room feeling and many conflicts with Brett Brown as well as members of the team, much like that ensued in Chicago and Minnesota. Tobias’ laid-back, genuine leadership attempt led to the Sixers putting out one of their flattest performances in playoff history despite the championship aspirations. Simmons and Embiid showed signs of plateauing in their development this year and the fit around them has grown more and more concerning. Embiid specifically looked so frustrated by the end of this year.
Neither Ben Simmons nor Joel Embiid have shown signs of wanting to step into the leadership role on the team. Ben is polished with the media, quiet off the court, but seems more interested in playing Warzone (shoutout to his new E-sports team) than organizing a team get-together. Embiid has matured greatly from the twitter-fingered 20-year-old when he entered the league, but he is still just a big kid who’d rather dance around hyping up the crowd rather than lead a huddle at a key moment. We still love him for that.
While there are certainly many factors that contribute to postseason success, leadership is no doubt a major factor. The impact of guys like LeBron and Dame Lillard is seen for their leadership just as much as their basketball ability. With the hiring of a head coach to occur soon and a lack of leadership on the team still being there, the Sixers must put a system in place that provides them with a clear direction. Whether it be Embiid or Simmons stepping into a more vocal role on the team, Tobias becoming more effective in his leadership role, or if a new voice is necessary, getting the team on the same page would make a major impact moving forward.
Mandatory Credit – Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire
Lifelong Philly Sports fan and current college student at Alvernia University. Writes about Sixers and Phillies and Co-Host of Pick Swap Podcast
Twitter: @Sean_Barnard1 and @PickSwapPod