7 for 6: The Clock is Now Ticking

| Jimmy Butler has arrived in Philadelphia, and the pressure is officially on. First impressions of Butler and adjustments to the rotation highlight a turning point in The Process |

First Impressions of Butler

Jimmy Butler was formally introduced on Tuesday, and his words reflect what the team expects out of their newly acquired superstar; a championship.

“That’s above any and everything, and I think that’s the reason why everyone plays this game, is to win a championship,” Butler told the press.

Butler strived to make a good impression, and he had good reason to. The Sixers can sign him to an extension during the offseason, but they don’t have to if this year goes poorly. For Butler to get a max contract this summer, be it from Philadelphia or another team, it’s in his best interest for this to go smoothly. His departure from Chicago and brief tenure with Minnesota puts his character as a teammate into question.

As for his play on the court, Butler has been as good as advertised. Below are his stats through the first three games with Philadelphia;

Nov. 14th @ Orlando: 14 points (6/12 FG) 4 rebounds, 2 assists

Nov. 16th vs Utah 28 points (12/15 FG) 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals

Nov. 17th @ Charlotte: 15 points 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks.

Only the Utah game stands out from a scoring perspective, but Butler brings an intimidation factor, a level of compete that very few players in the league can match. Best of all the team now has a closer in Butler, who raises his game in the late moments. Against Charlotte on Sunday, Butler almost singlehandedly won the game in the final moments. He locked up Kemba Walker in the closing moments, blocking his shot and then saving the ball from going out of bounds. Moments later he scored the game winning shot in overtime.

It’s great to have a player who is comfortable and willing to take shots in crunch time. But perhaps the most encouraging sign of Butler in a Sixer uniform has been how much he’s complimented his new teammates. Butler seems impressed by the team around him as well. After the win against Utah, he sung their praises (while also maybe taking a shot at his former teammates in Minnesota).

“So much more fun to play with these guys. Everybody wants to win and when somebody messes up, you talk to them, they don’t take it personal and they do their job.”

Overall, Butler seems like a good fit so far, and he will only get more comfortable playing with his new teammates.

Lineup Changes

Butler may be a top talent, but the Sixers created some holes in their lineup to add him. Butler took over one starting spot, and to make things go smoothly Brett Brown inserted JJ redick and Wilson Chandler into the starting lineup.

The initial returns? Very encouraging.

The lineup of Embiid/Simmons/Butler/Redick/Chandler has net rating of 43 after three games (127.6 Off Rtg, 84.5 Def Rtg). It’s obviously a small sample size, but that lineup has three legitimate scoring options and it would be slightly unfair to characterize Redick as a poor defender since he’s actually very smart on that end despite athletic limitations.

Kork is popped

The starters weren’t the only unit that went through a change. Another addition to the rotation is Furkan Korkmaz. Less than two weeks after reportedly asking the team for a trade, Korkmaz has seen minutes with the hope that his shooting can lift the bench. And so far, his the results have been positive. He scored a career high 16 points on Monday versus Miami.

Korkmaz has a ways to go before he’s a consistent piece of the rotation, but it’s encouraging to see him do something on offense in the NBA.

Possible Trade Targets

Saric and Covington were capable three point shooters, and now there are two less capable three point shooters in their rotation. Butler makes up for some of that, but scoring depth is not a strength of the team anymore. A trade for Butler might not happen this season if Landry Shamet isn’t a rotation player already. Redick and Shamet’s shooting has buoyed the bench without their primary acquisitions (Chandler and Muscala) for long stretches. But Redick is back in the starting lineup, and Shamet is still a rookie. The Sixers are going to be active on the buyout market or the trade deadline. That’s how they acquired Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli last season.

As for who they’d target, a Kyle Korver return to town makes a lot of sense. The Cavaliers should be entering a all-out rebuild soon, and Korver is a veteran salary that they can do without.

Fultz’s Judgment Coming Soon

For better or worse, Jimmy Butler’s arrival significantly accelerates the team’s timeline for winning a title. They have their big three, and this season is no longer just a year for improvement. For Markelle Fultz, this means that his time in Philadelphia may be a lot shorter.

Jimmy Butler is many things, but very few would describe him as patient with young talent. Considering his problems with Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins in Minnesota, there is little reason to expect him to wait around for Fultz to discover his shot again. Butler, not wanting to rustle any feathers, was actually supportive of Fultz on Tuesday.

It’s good to hear immediate support, but it would be naive to think that Butler will act the same around Fultz that he does in front of reporters. He’s notoriously a tough teammate, and will challenge Fultz to rise to his level if competition. We shouldn’t necessarily assume that Butler would be a negative influence on Fultz, but there is little reason to believe otherwise.

Ultimately if Butler thinks the Sixers need one more piece, Fultz would likely be on the move. The problem with needing to move Fultz is that his trade value is incredibly low. He’s been passable on the court, but the context of him as a player is filled with red flags. A former #1 overall pick whose jump shot drama is still on-going, most recently with the end of the relationship between Fultz and trainer Drew Hanlen. Teams won’t be eager to give up players on good contracts or draft picks for a player like Fultz at this stage in his career.

The Sixers may just have to grit their teeth and bear Fult’z gradual development.

Process Ruminations

In many ways this trade was the logical end point for The Process. The whole point was to have as many chances at a high draft position which allows you to get a superstar. Along the way, you presumably get a few diamonds in the rough, and if you’re lucky enough to truly hit on a star, everything else gives you the ammo to acquire more of them. The Sixers tried in Free agency and struck out. Considering Hinkie’s propensity for complex trades, this deal feels a lot like something he would have done, maybe even sooner by now.

But does this trade signify the end of The Process as we know it? I don’t think that it has to. Sure, the Sam Hinkie’s willingness to lose games and collect assets like draft picks and cap space was so strong that the strategy became associated with him. And Bryan Colangelo depleted some of those assets.  Elton Brand finally cashed some of them in. None of those stages were an exact distillation of The Process, because the process is more of an overarching philosophy than a particular strategy.

Hinkie was a big believer of the term “optionality”, which means always have flexibility to explore different avenues to achieve your goal. Take the Butler trade for example. He is a free agent at the end of this year. The Sixers would presumably like to re-sign him. If they give Butler the max, they’re roster isn’t completely hamstrung. They would have to renounce all of their free agents and possibly trade Markelle Fultz or Miami’s 2021 1st round pick, but there’s an avenue for the Sixers to create 20+ million in cap room this summer. They could also decide not to just re-sign Butler if he doesn’t mesh with the team over the course of the season. His future here is not guaranteed just yet.

The point of all of this is; many people have the impression that this trade for Butler is the logical endpoint for The Process. But there are many ways that this trade could turn out, and they all end with Joel Embiid still on the roster.  As long as he is still here, The Process lives on.

Looking Ahead

With Butler’s arrival, the Sixers are obviously prioritizing a playoff run. They best start gaining ground now, and luckily their schedule can allow them to climb in the standings. Their next six opponents are Phoenix, New Orleans,  Brooklyn, New York, and Washington. Aside from New Orleans, none of those teams are currently in playoff spot. With Butler on the floor, they should easily win at least four of those games. The time to win is now. We’ll see if the Sixers are truly up to the task.

All stats are up to date as of Nov. 19th

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