On November 12, 2018, the Philadelphia 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler. Fast forward two months, and it looks like this group could crumble well before the postseason.
News broke today that Jimmy Butler challenged head coach, Brett Brown in a film session to the extent that some perceived to be disrespectful and crossing the line. This shouldn’t be anything new, with the Butler-Minnesota Timberwolves drama unfolding for the past few months, and the turmoil when Butler played for the Chicago Bulls before that.
It seems as though Butler is following the trajectory of what some thought his Sixers career could look like: be a team player at first, hit some game-winning shots, then finally get comfortable enough to make Philadelphia his house.
Butler has challenged the Sixers’ offense, hoping for more isolation plays and pick-and-rolls that would allow him to operate ball-in-hand, but Brett Brown’s offense allows for two other guys to operate how they want as well.
Another alpha male in Philadelphia is Joel Embiid. Embiid has made a gigantic leap this season, even thrusting himself into the MVP conversation. He isn’t going to win the award, but for a player to put up nearly 27 points and 13.6 rebounds per game while shooting a hair better in field goal percentage compared to last season, the word is out — Embiid is for real.
The last of the Big Three is of course, Ben Simmons. The Sixers’ first overall draft pick since Allen Iverson, the Aussie has a lot expected of him, even being compared to a young LeBron James. His passing and open-court ability is uncanny, and even though he gets ridiculed for his lack of a jump shot of any kind, he may have the highest ceiling on the whole roster.
One event that’s been under speculation involves Embiid and Simmons in a game against the Los Angeles Clippers this past Tuesday. When both men went for a rebound, Simmons hit Embiid in the face, which prompted Embiid to angrily shout at his teammate from across the floor while walking off the court.
Events like these can mean absolutely nothing, but it’s clear that Embiid embraces Philly and is the franchise guy there. He wanted to be nicknamed “The Process” from the Sam Hinkie “Trust the Process” slogan, and seems to be more of a fan favorite than Simmons. Embiid is the Sixers’ best player right now, and it’s not hard for that to get under Butler or Simmons’ skin.
As talented as the three are, nobody is realistically taking the Sixers to make the NBA Finals this year, and part of convincing Butler to re-sign with the team this summer has to be making a respectable run in the playoffs.
The Sixers are 25-14, fourth in the East and are a playoff lock, but their run in the postseason could make a lot of uncertainties clear. Jimmy Butler is supposedly the final piece to The Process, given their lack of tradable assets remaining, meaning this team has to do well immediately. If they don’t, The Process has failed.
With Embiid being the Sixers’ heart and soul, should the front office quietly listen to offers for either Simmons or Butler? If the Sixers cannot make it work by this summer’s end, they can just let Butler walk, admit to their failed experiment, and move on with Simmons and Embiid.
In the event of a total Big Three breakdown in Philly, rolling with the guys you drafted is probably the most ideal scenario. But it isn’t out of the question that Simmons could get tired of Embiid’s bold personality and wants his own team down the line. That’s not to say that Simmons wants to leave Philly. The front office definitely wants him around, having exercised Simmons’ team option for the 2019-20 season back in October of last year.
Even though Philly isn’t going to trade Embiid, Simmons, or Butler before next month’s deadline, there’s a lot riding on the outcome of this season. If the Sixers face another premature playoff exit in a few months, it’s hard to say “run it back” without wincing or shrugging your shoulders.