During the 2018-19 season, the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves, pairing him with stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Brett Brown’s group finished the campaign with a stellar record of 51-31 and looked primed to go on a deep postseason run.
However, the Sixers lost to Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors in the second round of the 2019 playoffs in seven games. May 12, 2019, was the final date Butler, Embiid, and Simmons played together, as Butler signed with the Miami Heat in free agency, a move the Sixers haven’t recovered from.
Butler, Embiid, and Simmons should have been a lethal Big 3 for the next decade. However, the Sixers didn’t re-sign Butler in 2019 because Simmons reportedly got jealous of him.
Ben Simmons was reportedly frustrated Jimmy Butler was primary ball-handler vs. Raptors
Butler was the primary ball-handler for the Sixers in the Raptors series, and that reportedly didn’t sit well with Simmons. According to Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports, “Simmons’ frustration at being relegated to off-ball duty during the team’s 2019 second-round loss to the Raptors contributed to the front office’s decision” not to re-sign Butler, who joined the Heat via a sign-and-trade deal on July 6, 2019.
In the seven-game series against the Raptors, Butler averaged 22.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 5.6 assists. Meanwhile, Simmons put up 11.6 points, 7.3 boards, and 4.9 assists per game and was held below 10 points in Games 2 and 5. Brown’s decision to make Butler the initiator on offense was clearly the right move, as the Sixers almost defeated the Raptors and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001.
However, Simmons supposedly wasn’t a fan of playing second fiddle behind Butler and privately complained about it. Since he was younger, Simmons was the player the Sixers decided to keep, and it’s turned out to be a disastrous move.
Jimmy Butler has found a home with the Heat, while Ben Simmons is scared to shoot in Philly
In his first season with the Heat, Butler averaged 19.9 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 6.0 assists and led the team to the NBA Finals. Although Miami lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games, Butler proved he’s one of the top players in the league and a player you can build a championship roster around.
Without Butler, Simmons and the Sixers were mediocre in 2019-20. They finished as the sixth seed in the East and lost to the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Even though Simmons didn’t play against the Celtics due to a knee injury, his lack of scoring skills likely would have hurt Philadelphia versus Boston, which was certainly the case in this year’s postseason.
The Sixers lost to the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals in seven games. Simmons was an absolute joke in the series, averaging just 9.9 points and shooting 33.3% from the free-throw line. He also didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth quarter in five out of the seven games.
Several pundits believe the Sixers could have made a run at the title last season and this season had they kept Butler. Now, not only do they have to watch the five-time All-Star thrive with the Heat, but they also have to figure out how to handle their expensive Simmons problem.
Rich Paul and Sixers have talked about 2017-18 Rookie of the Year’s future
According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, discussions on Simmons’ future with the Sixers started in Chicago this week and included Klutch Sports CEO Rich Paul, who met with Daryl Morey and Elton Brand at the pre-draft combine to begin evaluating the next steps in Simmons’ Sixers career. The 2017-18 Rookie of the Year has four years and $147 million left on his contract.
Even though no trade request has been made by Simmons or Paul, it is widely assumed that the Sixers will gauge the trade market this summer to see if they can get a significant haul in return for the point forward. If they don’t get an offer they like, they will have to bring Simmons back and hope whatever offseason drills Doc Rivers spoke about works.
“I believe, without going into detail with what we’re doing, I believe we know what the right work is, and the right type of work, and the right way to do it,” Rivers said at his end-of-the-season presser. “You can do the work all the time, but if it’s not done in the right way and the right type of work, you may not improve.”
It’s clear the Sixers made a huge mistake letting Butler go and banking on Simmons to improve his jump shot. Of course, there’s still time for the LSU product to develop a jumper, but for a team that’s in win-now mode, the Sixers would have been better off with a proven and polished player like Butler this season.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.