Jimmy Butler left his way out of Minnesota and on a challenger the only way he knows how: Through willpower.…
Jimmy Butler left his way out of Minnesota and on a challenger the only way he knows how: Through willpower.
At his best and his worst, the 29-year-old wing shines subtleties and neglects nuances-never more than in his last months in Minnesota before Saturday’s trade to Philadelphia. If the owner Glen Taylor and President Tom Thibodeau hit their feet on a deal, Butler would challenge them publicly, call out their teammates and put out training camps. If they were hesitating, Butler would return to the team with an ESPN-sitting interview in the trailer instead of the tail between the legs. If Minnesota seemed dare to keep him up to the deadline, Butler would use his health to motivate sitting games and to publicly question his cargo.
On and off it went. If Derrick Rose miraculously scored 50 points, Butler would crash his happy post-interview, just to make sure everyone knew he was still there. If the Timberwolves were killed in Oakland, Butler would take a towel and wave it with the rest of the Oracle Arena. If team mate Tyus Jones wanted to see his brother play for Duke, Butler would lend him a plan. If fans promised him, Butler would tell the media he does not care about ̵
1; and really does it – before he plays well enough to stretch to serve a bowl.
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Butler’s exit strategy was completely transparent: he would do everything to make sure Minnesota approved his trade request and to make sure that the rest of the league never forgot him. There was little consideration for potential side effects: the permanent damage to his reputation as leader, the franchise-changing chaos he did in Minnesota, the negative impact he had on Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and the betrayal of Thibodeau, who monitored his rise to featured in Chicago and then investing his job in Minnesota for trading for him.
This hardened land use was disappointing but hardly surprising. When Butler adorned the Illustrated sport in 2015, he did it alongside the tagline: “If you stop or slow down, everything can disappear.” His odds-propulsion increases from homelessness to a freelance player, from JuCo to All-NBA, from the last player picked up in the first round of 2011 to a possible maximum contract next summer, because his default settings are constant motion and uncompromising self-confidence. He had to double down and triple and quadruple these principles, as he held the maximum leverage of his career and predicted his career’s biggest payday.
Although his tactics were often unresponsive, his views on the situation in Minnesota were hard to dispute. The Timberwolves have never been a destination for superstars. Taylor has never shown the commitment and skill needed to build a competitor. Thibodeau has continued to play his stars for many minutes and has not built a defensive juggernaut. Towns and Wiggins have not proved they are ready to be the core of a team making a deep jump in the playoffs. Together, Butlers Timberwolves takes on the benefits and terrible mistakes in the performance, but expects him to show discretion, patience or even a minimal pace was a stupid matter.
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Sixers represents a tantalizing landing place for Butler because they will instantly test their lifestyle. This is an organization with a long and proud history, an aggressive and deeply-owned owner group, a smart and well-trained coach in Brett Brown and a pair of A-staring rising stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The main challenge in Philadelphia for Butler will not be a shrewd commitment from ownership or lack of modern strategic thinking or doubtful talent about him. No, the defining question will fit. And more specifically, Butler’s fit.
If Butler storms into Philadelphia as if he stormed from Minnesota, he might as well start booking his vacation plans for May. Sixers do not need anyone to challenge Embiid’s masculinity, to spell and marginalize Simmons, or to scream at Markelle Fultz when he hesitates on a jump shot. They won a playoff series last year, and the Simmons / Embiid duo is beautifully set up for a six-year run on or near the top of the East. Butler must find ways to make the two players better instead of transforming their development partnership into their own image.
It is not to suggest that Butler has to act as a supersized version of Robert Covington, the 3-and-D wing Philadelphia sent back to Minnesota with Dario Saric. Sexers 17th-rated crimes can use Butler’s shooting, shooting and foul-drawing, and he should enjoy a strong pick-and-roll partnership with Embiid. But Brett Brown will need to stagger Simmons and Butler whenever possible, as both are primary attackers and less than ideal floor distances. When they play together, Butler must be prepared to sacrifice some use and make the most of his mess. Simmons is far too good for a gambler – and too poor of a shooter – to be regularly moved by the ball.
Defectively, Butler should slip into seamless cases for a harsh Sixers group ranked seventh this year after finishing the third final year. Embiid is all that Towns are not in terms of track and general awareness, and Simmons is the athletic and versatile perimeter defender that many analysts expected Wiggins to come out of Kansas. If things clicks, this group has 2019 Finals potential: a top three defense and an over average crime can be enough to get through Boston, Toronto and Milwaukee.
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Look for Butler exploding out of the gates of Philadelphia because he tries to remove from ugly in Minnesota and congratulate an organization that may bleed him to a long-term max business next summer. When the initial thrill of his promising new environment slows down, Butler will have to move with a delicacy that has long disappeared from him.
In 2015, Thibodeau said about Butler: “If they do not bite like puppies, they do not usually bite. Jimmy bites from the beginning.” Butler continued to tear Thibodeau’s legs away and he must embrace Embiid’s alpha game and alpha personality for to avoid further bloodshed in Philadelphia. And after failed partnerships with Rose in Chicago and Towns in Minnesota, Onus is now on Butler to make it work with Simmons, whose offensive game deserves respect and requires a lot of hands.
During the most infamous episode of his Timberwolves endgame, Butler stamped into an exercise without warning, dominated his teammates and explained, “You need me. You can not win without me.” That feeling was true in Minnesota but that is no longer true in Philadelphia. Butler needs Brown, Embiid, Simmons and Even Fultz to win if profit is defined by advancing in the playoff, repairing his reputation or claiming a monster payout in July.
Now, we just hope that Butler can pause his breakneck journey for a long time to realize that his single attitude can only take him so far.