Walden: Jimmy Butler is a combustible gamble for the 76ers who may well blow up in their faces

Philadelphia 76ers' Jimmy Butler (23) drives past Orlando Magic's Evan Fournier during the first half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

When the Jazz were in Minnesota all the way back on Halloween, the Timberwolves were right smack in the midst of their Jimmy Butler headache.

Head coach and team president Tom Thibodeau announced at that morning’s shootaround that Butler would be sitting out that night due to “general soreness and preventative rest.” In his pregame media session, Thibs tried to make it sound like a mutual decision: “When you miss training camp like he did — basically this is his training camp, so there’s soreness involved” he said. “… You have to trust the player.”

Nope, nope, nope. Nobody was buying it. Butler had made it clear he wanted out. He’d made it clear he was frustrated by the pace of the Wolves’ efforts to get him out. And so he made it clear he was trying to punish the team by sitting out.

Butler was finally traded a week ago to the 76ers for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and a second-round pick. Minnesota owner Glen Taylor subsequently admitted a few things everyone knew all along: That the Wolves had tried to persuade Butler to change his mind; that doing so was ultimately a waste of time; and that having Butler around in the interim fostered a “negative environment.”

Whether you ultimately view what Butler did as the whiny histrionics of yet another spoiled, petulant millionaire brat or the shrewd maneuverings of an empowered athlete to dictate the course of his career is ultimately irrelevant; he followed the blueprint set out by the likes of Chris Paul, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard, and — like them — he got what he wanted.

Personally, I’m more intrigued by Philadelphia taking the plunge. It’s easy to say you should always, Always, ALWAYS swap out valuable-but-replaceable pieces for star talent — but it’s not always that simple.

It worked out for Houston, because the Rockets could afford to sacrifice some depth for a piece like CP3, knowing he could attract more pieces. You could argue it worked out for OKC, who gambled on their culture convincing PG-13 to abandon his California Dreamin' in order to stay partnered with Russell Westbrook. And while we’re a ways away from knowing how Toronto going all-in on Leonard will turn out, it at least seems to be an excellent fit at the moment.

Some will say Butler belongs in the same category — he is, after all, a multi-time All-Star and one of the league’s premier two-way players. Conversely, he’s already proven, on multiple occasions, to be a locker room wrecking ball.

On paper, the Sixers make this deal every time. But Butler’s talent and production don’t exist in a vacuum. Beyond his troubling history of knee problems — he’s played no more than 67 games in four of the past five seasons — his act in Chicago wore out quickly, to the point the Bulls could not wait to send him to the Wolves. A little more than a year later, the Wolves realized they should not have waited to pawn him off on the Sixers.

Minnesota acquired him not merely to be the piece to help them break a playoff drought — which he did — but to lead by example and teach their young, talented, inexperienced core how to develop into steady, hard-working professionals— which he decidedly did not. How’s it gonna go in Philadelphia, surrounded by yet another young, talented, inexperienced core? How will Butler react when the turnover-prone Embiid coughs it up in a key moment? How will he behave when the deep shot-averse Simmons passes up one open 3 after another in crunch time?

The man is talented, but he’s equally combustible — and he’s already gone off twice. The Sixers’ conviction that they can avoid another detonation, their “Don’t worry, we know what we’re doing” mentality feels like hubris.

So don’t be surprised when Butler blows up in their faces.


“Athletes die twice,” Jackie Robinson once said. Carmelo Anthony’s professional basketball career appears to be on life support.

It’s been a stunningly swift decline for the four-time Olympian and a 10-time All-Star with a career average of 24.0 ppg, who just one summer ago was thought to be the third wheel of the Thunder’s “Big Three.”

But this season, he’s shooting 40.5 percent from the field and 32.8 percent from deep; his Player Efficiency Rating is 11.6 (a league-average player is 15.0); and he remains so stubbornly anachronistic on offense, and so unwilling or unable on defense that the Rockets ultimately decided his minutes were more deserved by Gary Clark — a rookie on a two-way contract.

Will another NBA team roll out the defibrillator and give his career one last jolt? Or do we recognize that there are no vital signs, pull the plug, and ship his basketball remains off to China to be repackaged as the next Stephon Marbury?

Whatever you do, don’t cry for Carmelo. He had a good, long run. And if his career didn’t end the way he wanted it to, well, there’s always one consolation — at least he wasn’t Darko Milicic.