Rarely do Bulls and 76ers news intersect in this current NBA landscape, considering they are polar opposites in the Eastern Conference standings. But this offseason there could be much to talk about for both teams revolving around budding superstar Jimmy Butler.
Before you Bulls fans immediately dismiss this post and furiously smash your keyboards in disgust with me, I just want to preface this piece by saying I don’t truly believe Jimmy Butler will be able to walk away from Chicago this offseason. So just take a deep breath, and as Aaron Rodgers perhaps most famously says, “relax”. However, I do think it’s necessary to be prepared for other scenarios to arise due to the unpredictability of the NBA, and the nature of the business.
Jimmy Butler is quickly becoming one of the hottest commodities of this upcoming offseason, and although Chicago has privately acknowledged they are prepared to sign the restricted free agent Butler to a max deal this summer, other teams (like the Sixers) will be hot on the trail of the young and gritty swingman.
If you take a quick glance at this Sixers team, there’s one glaring similarity between the players on the roster. But no, I’m not referring to the lack of talent (we get it the Sixers are bad). Sam Hinkie has assembled a roster of absolute athletic freaks: K.J. McDaniels, Jerami Grant, JaKarr Sampson, Nerlens Noel, etc. These guys are long, can jump out of the gym, and they disrupt opponents on the defensive end. The smallest guy on the roster is Tony Wroten, and he’s a wrecking ball at 6’5”. Jimmy Butler fits almost perfectly into what Hinkie is trying to build here in Philadelphia. It also doesn’t hurt that there is an undeniable need for a swingman to complete Philadelphia’s future starting five.
But the “coup de grace” of why the Sixers are a possible landing spot for Butler is because of something that’s rectangular, green, and has pictures of dead presidents on it. Straight cash homie! The Sixers have cleared all of this cap space over the past few seasons for this exact purpose, to selectively wait for a player whom they target as a potential future cog of the team and pounce when the opportunity presents itself. They have more money to spend than any other franchise in the NBA and can really push Chicago’s hand this summer if they so choose.
Like most NBA teams the Bulls don’t have a ton of cap space. They already have a lot invested in players like Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Pau Gasol, who altogether makeup approximately $50 million of the Bulls total team salary. This was one of the reasons why I suggested the Bulls deal Noah before the deadline, due to his injury history, age, and $13.9 million cap hit next season. Although Jimmy Butler certainly looks like he’ll be worth any deal he receives this summer, the Bulls have to know their future may be restricted being committed to so many huge contracts. Last offseason Klay Thompson got a four year, $70 million deal. Butler’s max deal would be similar to Klay’s, although the Bulls could give Jimmy a fifth year.
In his short time in the NBA, Butler has proven to be a lockdown defender and this season he’s proven to other NBA teams that he can create his own shot, something few believed he’d be able to do when he entered the league out of Marquette. He also has shown that he can lead a team during the grind of the regular season; when Rose was out earlier this season the Bulls didn’t lose a step mostly due to Jimmy’s stellar performance. This enormous improvement to his offensive game is what has made him such an interesting target for other teams this offseason. But his entire skill set is what will drive someone to extend him an offer sheet if the Bulls can’t lock him up first.
Besides the immense dollar figure that may be shelled out by Sam Hinkie to Jimmy Butler, there’s a bright future for the Sixers whether you see it or not; its possible Jimmy could see the light at the end of the tunnel and be swayed and intrigued to become a part of it. He would have a chance to be the team’s leader and possibly over time a face of the franchise, similar to James Harden in Houston after he left OKC.
There are also some concerns about the Bulls future that might influence Jimmy Butler’s decision. Joakim Noah is almost 30 and seems to already be breaking down. Pau Gasol has a ton of mileage and is quite possibly on his last contract. The clouded uncertainty of Derrick Rose going forward will always be a looming problem. Reading between those lines it’s possible the Bulls roster could turnover entirely within a couple years. It’s not entirely inconceivable that in two years, the Sixers will be much closer to claiming a title than the Bulls. Especially if the Bulls let Jimmy Butler walk.
Jimmy Butler signing in Philadelphia could really accelerate the rebuilding process, accelerate it to the point where it’ll be essentially over. A core of MCW, Jimmy Butler, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric (possible buyout overseas this summer) and a top three pick in the 2015 draft (Jahlil Okafor, Karl Anthony Towns, Emmanuel Mudiay, Stanley Johnson, etc.), is certainly enough to get the Sixers in postseason contention next year in the weak Eastern Conference. The Sixers would present a major problem defensively for any team, and with that core and future draft picks, they’d have more than enough offense to just get by. This is exactly what the Sixers had in mind when we began this rebuilding (tanking) process: collecting as many assets as possible and clearing immense amounts of cap space in hopes that one day a scenario like this would arise.
Realistically it’s unlikely that the Bulls would be willing to let Jimmy Butler sign elsewhere this summer. Butler is the rare wing who plays well on both sides of the ball, and NBA GMs aren’t usually inclined to let young talent just walk out the door. It’s also not really known whether the Sixers are even interested in Jimmy Butler; this is all speculation based off the tendencies of Sam Hinkie thus far into his tenure. Kawhi Leonard is another restricted free agent that the 76ers could throw an offer sheet at as well. Like the Bulls with Butler, the Spurs will almost definitely match any offer sheet that a team proposes to Leonard. But hey, a Sixers fan can dream right?
For the now the Bulls will focus on trying to position themselves higher in the playoff race, while the Sixers will be hunting for second round picks before the trade deadline. But when the dust settles in June and the NBA champions are crowned, whether it’s the Bulls or not, Jimmy Butler and the Chicago front office will be forced to make some tough decisions that could shape both of our franchises for several years to come.