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On The Road Again: Jimmy Butler to the 76ers, but at what cost?

After weeks of fighting for a trade, Jimmy Butler is a Philadelphia 76er. Is that a good thing, though?

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Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

It was Saturday afternoon. Cold, but sunny and not a cloud in the sky. No wind, no snow. Perfectly still, one might say.

And then, the tweet.

Minutes passed that felt like hours, days even. And then, the next tweet.

Let’s back up for a moment. There are three important things in my life: calzones, the Marquette Golden Eagles and the Philadelphia 76ers. And this doesn’t involve trading calzones (though someone should direct me to that market).

Marquette legend, former Chicago Bull and Minnesota Timberwolf, and the pride of Tomball, Texas, Jimmy Butler is now a Philadelphia 76er. And I’ve found myself caught in a tornado of emotions.

So, there’s the news hit. Our boy Jimmy Buckets was traded today for the second time in his career (the first being from the Bulls to the Timberwolves) to the Philadelphia 76ers along with former Creighton center Justin Patton in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 2nd-round pick.

This trade puts a merciful end to the brutally uncomfortable saga that started this summer when Butler requested a trade from the Timberwolves. The Sixers weren’t in the initial list of teams he said he’d like to be sent to, but eventually he conceded that he was interested in joining Philadelphia and had interest in re-signing with them this summer. Butler’s annoyance with Minnesota stemmed from numerous things, but there are two that are most notable here: He had grown increasingly frustrated with the team’s two young stars, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, and he was fed up with coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau’s incessant desire to play Butler an unnecessarily high number of minutes per game. I mean, look at this section of a sit-down between Butler and The Athletic’s Sam Amick, and tell me that wouldn’t piss you off too.

As a Marquette fan, I want to see Butler in the best position for him to succeed. The moment he stepped on campus, I don’t think anyone expected him to be a 2-time All-NBA, 4-time All-Star, 4-time All-Defensive Team-caliber player. Heck, I don’t know if anyone expected that when he stepped off campus. Our hopes were high, but Marquette hasn’t seen a player have success at the next level like this since Dwyane Wade, and before that… George Thompson in the early 70s? Butler went from averaging just under 6 points a game in 20 minutes as a junior college transfer to playing himself into the 1st round of the NBA Draft. And it only went up from there. We’re proud parents, and he’s our son.

That’s why it’s so hard to watch Butler be at the center of all this drama. He was, effectively, destroying the Minnesota locker room in an effort to get himself out of it. His crusade was, while effective, erratic — at one moment, he’d be MIA, not joining the team in their early season workouts, and the next, he’d be:

He was indeed back, and he spent the first few weeks of the season flipping between playing like his usual self (dropping 32 against LeBron James and the Lakers) and riding the pine, conserving his body for the hopes of the trade under the guise of already being injured (“general soreness” LOL).

But now it’s over. And that’s where I come in.

Jimmy got his wish by being traded, and it’s a bonus that he was traded to a contender, my Philadelphia 76ers. He’s now the 3rd star in Sam Hinkie’s genius vision of team-building, joining MVP candidate Joel Embiid and reigning Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons. The trade, which is expected to be official on Monday, signals a turning point for the Sixers, one that we’ve been waiting on for years. Hinkie’s Process was launched to land as many chances at drafting as many stars as possible while developing late draft picks and undrafted free agents into solid role players that we could flip for another star. It was going to take a long time. Like Hinkie said in his 13-page resignation letter, it would take “one part courage, two parts patience.” In fact, he said this specifically about drafting Dario Saric, a guy who may not have come to the NBA immediately, but who was worth the wait. And now, just like Hinkie envisioned, he’s not ours. Neither is Covington. They belong to Minnesota.

That’s the fun thing about sports and caring about teams. Just like I loved Jimmy Butler when he was leading us to the 2011 Sweet 16, I loved Robert Covington when he was playing for a 10-win Sixers team. I loved Dario Saric when he was still playing overseas (rumor has it, he still hasn’t come over). This is why I’m so conflicted. I became so attached to this world with help from the inimitable Rights to Ricky Sanchez Podcast, the only Sixers podcast, and so watching a piece (or two) of that world break off, only to be replaced by a piece of this world, is jarring. Adding Butler is really cool for 14-year-old me, the me who went with his dad to the Bradley Center, sat in section 421, row F, seats 3 &4, to hear the PA announcer scream “JIMMAAAAAAAYYYYYYYY BUTLEEEEEEEERRRRRRRR” during the Marquette starting lineup, the me who assured both of my Bulls fan uncles that they drafted the right guy on draft night, the me who declared the Timberwolves the most underrated team in the NBA when they traded for Our Guy. My Guy.

But this me, Sixers Me, what does he think? Does he want Jimmy Butler?

Not… not really.

Butler is a fantastic player, a top-15 player in the NBA as it stands. He’s going to a team where he’ll already have two stars to play with, a place where he can be The Guy With The Ball In His Hands At The End Of The Game. And the Sixers were desperate for another star. Butler wants to win and so do the Sixers. He’s the right guy to get: A top-notch wing defender and an offensive force.

But he’s also a locker room time-bomb, a sizable injury concern and a hefty price tag. Is he really worth it for the Sixers? I suppose it doesn’t matter now — what’s done is done — but for a team that’s been so built so particularly, and for an organization that’s gone through so much, this doesn’t feel like the right move.

Schematically, Butler doesn’t fit like a glove. More like an undersized mitten you jam on because your hand is really cold. He likes the ball in his hands to make a play, but with Ben Simmons running the floor, that will either make Butler unhappy, or take the ball away from Simmons and render him almost useless. The Sixers also funnel most of their offense through a 7’2” Cameroonian Jesus in Embiid, which will slow things down and won’t provide Butler a lot of time to work his iso game. However, Butler is a great cutter, something the team desperately needs, and whether it’s from Simmons on a no-look into the lane, or from Embiid against a double-team, Butler will get plenty of looks. But will they come the way he wants?

Then there’s the financial aspect. Butler is currently making just under $19 million, and is expecting a fat extension from his new team (Woj reported that both parties expect to get a deal done this summer). That number will be, um, very high, and for a guy who’ll be approaching 30 when the season’s over, a 5-year contract with a big price tag could be costly, no pun intended, but also pun intended. Like I mentioned before, one thing that Butler was fed up with in Minnesota (and in Chicago under Thibs) was playing way too many minutes a game. He has a lot of mileage on him; he has played more than 70 games a season only twice in his career, and one of them came in his second year in the NBA. His body is breaking down, and having a $38 million dollar, 33-year-old Butler barely being able to run down the floor is less than ideal. I hyperbolize, but Butler’s body breaking down halfway through a new contract is a serious concern.

And then, of course, there’s the locker room stuff. 76ers head coach Brett Brown has done a phenomenal job of creating a tight-knit locker room and an admirable team culture. Saric and Covington were a huge part of it; now, they’re gone. It’s been a tough early part of the season for the Sixers. There’s a lot of pressure to get back to being the 52-win team they were a year ago. Adding even more pressure to win now could cause things to get tumultuous. Would be a shame if someone came in and

spoiled it.

Seriously, the Sixers are a weird organization. Neither of their current backcourt members can shoot effectively, if at all. Their superstar is (endearingly) the loudest mouth in the league. The new general manager replaced one that was caught with multiple burner accounts (sort of) trashing the team and its players. One of those backcourt members, Markelle Fultz, went through the most bizarre season in modern NBA history, and he still requires some patience as he tries to get back to the player he once was. Jimmy may not be thrilled with any and/or all of that! I’m fearing the day I get a Woj Bomb on my phone notifying me that Butler ran through the team at practice with only Shake Milton and Jonah Bolden.

I’m probably one of the very few people in the world who land in the middle of a Marquette/Sixers Venn diagram. So, I should be elated that my worlds are finally colliding. But it’s sad to say that our boy Jimmy Buckets will bring with him a lot of baggage wherever the rest of his career takes him. But he’ll always be a Marquette Golden Eagle, and for that, I’ll always love him, and I’ll always cheer for him. Of course, I’m not going to hope that his tenure as a Sixer goes poorly. I’m gonna scream at him on TV like I always do with Golden Eagles and Sixers alike. I’m going to hope he helps us win an NBA Championship. I’m going to hope that he helps finish The Process. I have to.

Because Jimmy’s here.