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Are the 2019 NBA Finals a legitimate possibility?

As the high from the Philadelphia 76ers trade for Jimmy Butler wears off, the Sixers’ performance since his addition shows a much-improved team, but one that currently seems unable to make it to the NBA Finals.

The Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2018-19 season with high expectations, and through there first few games, struggled to reach the potential many fans and members of the media had for them. A lack of roster depth, Markelle Fultz having health and performance issues, and Ben Simmons not gaining the ability to shoot over the offseason were all plausible explanations for the Sixers struggles.

While trading for Jimmy Butler didn’t change any of the previously mentioned issues, he did give life to a team that might’ve struggled to clinch a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Jimmy Butler has averaged 16.6 points, 3.6 assists, and 5 rebounds per game over his career. Over 17 games with the Sixers he’s averaging 18.5 points, 3.1 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game and is the second behind Joel Embiid (26.4 points) as the Sixers best scorer (excluding vs. Boston on Tuesday).

The Sixers are 13-4 in the games Butler played in and 13-7 since Butler’s arrival. Several of the Sixers’ wins came from Butler’s ability to take over at the end of games and hit a game winning shot. But the Sixers’ lost to the Toronto Raptors 113-102 (the top team in the Eastern Conference) and Cleveland Cavaliers 121-112 (the worst team in the Eastern Conference) in games Butler played in, showed a team doesn’t have the overall talent to beat the Raptors in a seven game series.

Watching the Sixers play since the Butler trade, I’m conflicted on what I want the Sixers to do before trade deadline. Part of me wants to them focus on the play of bench players and talk myself into the Sixers being good enough. That Furkan Korkmaz and Landry Shamet will improve as the season goes on and that the Sixers will be a much better team by the time the playoffs starts without giving up any important assets in a trade.

But once I’ve convinced myself they are fine the way they are, they lose to the Brooklyn Nets (16-19) in a game Butler didn’t play in and get destroyed by 27 points to the San Antonio Spurs (18-16) in a game where every member of the Sixers’ big three was available.

As someone that doesn’t see the Sixers beating the Golden State Warriors this season, I’m reluctant give up the Miami Heat 2021 unprotected first-round pick for a player that could improve the team this year, but not enough to make them win the championship.

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Assuming Butler re-signs this offseason and Kevin Durant leaves the Warriors, the Sixers could enter next season with a realistic chance at winning the NBA championship, it’s just disappointing to see that this season’s team might not be good enough to make it to the Finals.

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