“Fierce competitor. Alpha. Superstar. Outspoken. Distraction.” The same things that have been said about recent acquistion Jimmy Butler share eerie similarities with another former blockbuster Philadelphia acquisition:
A Disgruntled Past…
Owens was traded to the Eagles in March of 2004 after various issues with teammates, coaches, and the organization. He had run his course with both Steve Mariucci and Dennis Erickson as head coaches. In a similar manner, T.O. publicly berated his offensive coordinator Greg Knapp, criticized then 49er QB Jeff Garcia, and had multiple fines for inappropriate/excessive touchdown celebrations. San Francisco was happy to see Owens go, to say the least.
Much like T.O., Butler has also had his fair share of issues made public. He consistently called out teammates in both Chicago and Minnesota. Notably in Chicago, Butler and Dwayne Wade called out several teammates after a 119-114 loss to Atlanta, a game that saw the Bulls blew an 11 point fourth quarter lead. Rajon Rondo of all people had to step in and be the voice of reason, defending his teammates from Butler and Wade. Butler also called out head coach Fred Hoiberg multiple times, who had replaced Tom Thibodeau. Reuniting with Thibs did not seem to mitigate Butler’s public outcries.
In Minnesota, Butler took the end of the Minnesota Timberwolves bench and reportedly obliterated the starters in a scrimmage, including Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler was said to have repeatedly gone after both Towns and Wiggins at both ends and dominate them. He then immediately went into a one-on-one interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and acknowledged all of the inner turmoil in Minnesota publicly:
The point of this isn’t to paint Butler, or Owens for that matter, in a negative light. Historically, Philadelphia has embraced and defended them as if they were always one of us. No matter where you came from or what you’ve done, once you put on that jersey, you’re family. Philadelphia defends its family.
Getting off on the right foot
It’s too early to tell if Butler can provide the same spark that Owens did for that Eagles team that went on to finally get over the hump of the NFC Championship game that had plagued them for the prior three years, eventually losing the Super Bowl to the New England Patriots. However, the early returns are very promising. There are already plenty of similarities between the arrival of Owens and the arrival of Butler.
Butler and Owens both said all the right things upon joining their respective teams. Owens routinely praised Donovan McNabb, Andy Reid, and the organization. Similarly, Butler has come in and praised the work ethic of the Sixers locker room and coaches, has shown admiration for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and showed tremendous poise when asked about Markelle Fultz: “As long as he’s going hard and working every day, he has my respect…He’s going to be successful.”
Brett Brown has also done his part in easing Butler’s arrival. Brown has repeatedly mentioned Butler’s professionalism, veteran presence, and work ethic. He has asked Butler to take Ben Simmons under his wing defensively, and it appears Butler has done just that. The relationship blooming between Simmons and Butler is a very encouraging one, as the two have become “Headband Bros” in a very exclusive club.
Owens arrived on the scene in a blaze of glory; three touchdowns in his debut and a mob scene at Lincoln Financial Field of “T.O.” chants. To the same effect, Butler has already hit two ridiculous game-winning threes and in his Wells Fargo Center debut, answered an early crowd call of “Jim-my But-ler” to a pull-up three that buried the Jazz’s hopes as early as the first quarter.
“Brings his lunch pail to work.”
Philadelphia has a soft spot for tough players. Words like “blue collar” and “grit” get us as riled up as the Frosty Freeze Out does. Although Owens was often associated with being a “diva,” there is no denying that in his first season with the Eagles, he showed tremendous toughness. In week 15 of the ’04 season, Owens fractured his right fibula and was frequently reported as being out for the remainder of the season. Despite being 13-1, the Eagles were in a state of despair. However, Owens had two screws put in to help the healing process and returned to play for the Eagles in the Super Bowl, catching nine passes for 122 yards.
Butler is arguably one of the toughest guys in the league and has earned that reputation. Since 2013-2014, Butler has been in the top 4 in minutes per game in the entire NBA. A four time NBA All-Defensive Team member, Butler has shown to be a tenacious on-ball defender, which the Sixers have truly needed. Recently, after a home and home against Detroit, which saw Butler and Blake Griffin getting into it last Friday (Griffin conveniently sat out Monday in Philadelphia), Butler appeared on The JJ Redick Podcast. When asked about going head-to-head with Griffin, Butler stated, “Locked that up. Blake can’t score on me. I don’t care what you say. You heard that, Blake. Ain’t worried about you.”
Money, motivation, and the future
Owens and Butler both arrived in Philadelphia with contract issues as well. Upon his arrival, Owens signed a seven year, $49 million contract with the Eagles, but there were significant issues with the structure. The contract was heavily back loaded and was scattered full of bonuses, not actual salary. As a result, Owens would have been the 26th highest paid receiver in his second year with the Eagles, while his third year carried a base salary just over $700,000. Owens prepared to hold out for the 2005 season, holding his infamous personal training camp in his driveway.
Reluctantly, TO returned to the Eagles, but was such a negative presence in the locker room that he was suspended from the team after only appearing in seven games. Owens was released after the 2005-2006 season and would sign with the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent that offseason.
For Butler, he is in the fourth year of a five year, $92 million deal but is expected to decline his fifth year player option and become a free agent after the season. Reportedly, Minnesota offered Butler a four year, $110 million extension this past summer which was declined. When discussing this with Nichols, Butler explained what matters to him the most:
Nichols: They offered you an extension that would have given you four years, $110 million. The reports are that you wanted something else. That if they had moved some other pieces around, and freed up more money, that you would have gotten more negotiation. It would have given you a shorter term contract, but more money. Is all that accurate?
Butler: It’s accurate. But it’s not about money. It’s not.
Nichols: So tell me what it’s about.
Butler: It’s about saying we need you. We want you here. We can’t do this without you. And that was the disconnect all along. You’re saying one thing, and you’re saying it, and you’re saying it. I mean I’ve learned enough times in life that saying something is completely different than acting upon it.null
I’ll speak for Philadelphia when I say: We need you Jimmy. We want you here. We can’t do this without you.
Just like we needed TO.