With the Philadelphia 76ers off to a shaky start, and All-Star Jimmy Butler desperately wanting a new home, is a possible alliance worth pursuing?
Following their 123-108 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Philadelphia 76ers fell to 2-3, certainly not what most observers around the league were expecting when the 2018-19 season commenced.
“Just get better. You can’t assume anything in this league. I think maybe we assumed that we would pick up where we left off, and there would be more carryover from last year. But players get better, teams get better, the league evolves….it was not our best five game stretch by any means.”
While it’s only early days, a number of areas have stood out, primarily the defensive return of the team.
After finishing third in defensive rating, the Sixers currently rank 18th, with the team having given up at least 127 points in two out of five games after having yielded this amount on just four occasions all of last season.
Clearly, one of the larger storylines over the past month has been the continued dramas surrounding Jimmy Butler and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Desperate to be moved away from the Wolves, the manner in which the Butler saga has dragged out in public has been remarkable.
Naturally, the first thing that would need to be addressed if the Sixers were to pursue Butler would be his actual fit with. Given the strengths of the Sixers’ marquee duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the first thing that springs to mind is the need for perimeter shooting.
As he’s done for the past few seasons, Robert Covington is the resident starting small forward. Named last season to the NBA All-Defensive first team, Covington is also a prolific 3-point shooter, currently averaging 6.4 attempts per game from long range.
However, his consistency at the offensive end has long been a point of contention. Over 296 career games, Covington is a 39.9 percent shooter from the field and 35.9 percent from deep.
Such is his unreliability at the offensive end, Covington was benched in the midst of the Sixers’ second-round playoff encounter with the Boston Celtics.
One of the main issues with Butler and the Sixers is the overall makeup of his game. Not an elite perimeter shooter, Butler’s game is predicated on a large amount of isolation play, something not emphasized under the Sixers’ system.
Furthermore, its his reputation as somewhat of a “locker-room lawyer” that is something that needs to be seriously taken into account when pondering a move.
However, according to Stephen A. Smith of ESPN, this wouldn’t be the first time the Sixers have been involved in discussions involving Butler.
In the lead-up to the 2017 NBA Draft, Smith reported on ESPN’s First Take that the Sixers were offered Butler by the Chicago Bulls in exchange for the No. 3 overall pick. The Sixers turned this down, instead trading up to select Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall.
As a result, the Bulls resorted to making a deal with the Timberwolves for Butler.
Fast forward to this offseason, where the Sixers were, in the words of head coach Brett Brown, “star hunting … that’s how you win a championship.”
This lack of activity didn’t go unnoticed. On a recent episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast on The Ringer featuring Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Simmons observed of the Sixers’ past summer:
“I think Philly completely botched their summer. and I said that before the season. I hated their summer.”
Furthermore, Windhorst added:
“I think Philly is looking around going, ‘Gee, Milwaukee’s good, Toronto’s a beast, we know Boston’s gonna be there, we may wanna do something.’”
If the Sixers were to seriously consider pursuing a Butler deal, deciding which pieces to be included will require critical thinking. The first player that naturally comes to mind is Covington.
While his defensive exploits are of the highest order, the 6’9″ Covington continues to be a highly inconsistent player at the offensive end, so much so that he was replaced in the starting lineup by T.J. McConnell in the midst of the Sixers’ second-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics.
Still just 27, Covington nonetheless presents tremendous value as a trade proposition, and is owed $46.9 million through the 2021-22 season. The second piece of the trade puzzle would most likely be Markelle Fultz.
While still just 20 and with enormous room to grow, it doesn’t appear at this stage that Fultz is going to realize his full potential with the Sixers with Ben Simmons the entrusted ball handler for the next decade.
Entering such a scenario will not be taken lightly, with a number pros and cons needed to be weighed up before making a decision. Furthermore, with the Miami Heat reportedly having re-entered talks for Butler following the report of the Houston Rockets getting into the mix,
However, with the potential upside provided by Butler at both ends of the floor, such a move could prove to be the difference between the Sixers advancing or stagnating this season and beyond.