Updated: Jan 18, 2019
The Philadelphia 76ers are currently 29-16, good enough for fourth in the talent-laden Eastern Conference behind the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers. The November 12th acquisition of Jimmy Butler has given the Sixers a chance to advance past the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Recent infighting between Butler, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons has prompted many questions:
What are the chances Butler re-signs with the Sixers this summer?
Is head coach Brett Brown the right man to coach this trio?
Can they get bench help at the trade deadline?
Do you trade Butler or (gulp) Simmons?
Those questions will intensify as the team embarks on a grueling month-long stretch against seven playoff teams from last season -- hopefully revealing a lot about this team and the direction they're headed in.
Jimmy Butler sends Charlotte home, despite 60 points from Hornet's guard Kemba Walker.
The Sixers are 20-10 since acquiring Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Robert Covington and Dario Saric on November 12th. Since his arrival, Butler has hit two game winners within a week of one another and has been a great compliment to Embiid and Simmons, but there have been some anxious moments. Weeks after the trade, center Joel Embiid expressed his displeasure with his role in the offense since Butler's arrival. The issue seemed to be Embiid being more of a floor spacer as opposed to being in the post where he is obviously more effective. Brown's decisions left Embiid struggling to get into the flow of the offense. Days later Embiid declared he had no problem with Butler's role in the offense. Prior to Butler's arrival, Embiid was having an MVP-caliber season. Since his statements in December, Embiid has continued his torrid pace averaging 27 points and 13 boards.
Just when things were smoothed over with Embiid, it was Butler who was now voicing his displeasure with Brown about his role in the offense. To the novice eye, Butler looked like he was getting his share of touches in points, you could see his struggles in the intricacies of the game and how looked out of place at times. Butler's production has been consistent because of his ability to freelance and get in where he fits in offensively.
While Philly braced itself for a potential implosion given the swingman's recent history in his waning weeks as a member of the Timberwolves, Brown took no umbrage to Butler's challenge.
Jimmy Butler felt Ben Simmons' "too soft" statement was too harsh of an indictment for the team.
Not to be outdone was point guard Ben Simmons who claimed the team was "too soft" following a disappointing home loss to the Atlanta Hawks last week, Butler was quick to disagree. Simmons has endured his share of criticism for a non-existent perimeter game. Even more unnerving is what seems to be a cavalier approach to working on a jump shot. No one expects Simmons to turn into Reggie Miller, but if defenders know Simmons isn't going to shoot, that's another defender he has to move the ball through. If he attempts more shots he becomes more of a triple-threat player whether he makes or misses the attempt. To Simmons' credit, he has taken more of an offensive initiative.
In the upcoming weeks, the Sixers face the Pacers, Rockets, Thunder, Spurs, Nuggets, Raptors and Celtics. Even the improved Sacramento King and the Los Angeles Lakers with or without LeBron James cannot be overlooked.
Things are fragile in Philly right now. Coaching decisions and the team's defensive desire have called into question by three players who are being asked to take the Sixers to the next level. The three teams ahead of the Sixers seem to have it all together and Boston is beginning to sort out their early season struggles. To be honest after 30 games with Butler, one would hope for the same here, but when have things ever come that easy here?
To call this portion of the schedule important is an understatement. If you break it down into thirds, there is a four-game trip to the West Coast against the Nuggets, Lakers, Warriors and Kings in seven days, respectively. It's possible, this third of the trip will be as telling as the other two-thirds. Road trips are a time for bonding and ironing out the wrinkles. Details like that go a long way when it comes to on-court cohesiveness.
Butler can't afford to look ahead to his July payday yet, Simmons has to improve beyond being a rebounder and assist man, Joel Embiid has to take over the game in the paid when necessary and finally coach Brett Brown has to improve on adjustments and in-game strategy. There's a bench full of young players who are going to be counted on during this time and the play of veterans will be watched closely. I'm sure veterans Wilson Chandler, Amir Johnson and J.J. Redick will serve as rudders as this team continues to navigate through this trek.
Just consider it another level in The Process.