There has been much talk about Philadelphia 76ers forward Jimmy Butler’s future. The four-time All-Star can opt out of the final year of his deal and seek a maximum contract as an unrestricted free agent this summer. What we didn’t take into consideration was that Butler’s next deal may be his last.
Asked during Tuesday’s shootaround how he plans to perform in his mid-30s, when presumably he would be playing out the final years of his next deal, Butler instead set a deadline for his retirement.
“I don’t plan on playing this game when I’m 35 years old,” Butler said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey. “So I’m not even worried about that. I’ll be done with this game before I’m 35.”
Wait, so how much before he turns 35 on Sept. 14, 2024? “That’s between me and whatever I tell myself later on,” added Butler. “But, I’m telling you right now, 35, I’m trying to be done before then.”
This is, of course, Butler’s right, and he should end his playing career whenever he wants.
Isn’t Jimmy Butler seeking a longterm contract?
Butler, who turns 30 just prior to next season, owns a $19.8 million player option for the 2019-20 season, which he is expected to decline. He would then be eligible for a contract from the 76ers in the $190 million range that would run through the 2023-24 season, months before his 35th birthday.
The fact that Butler plans to retire “before” he turns 35 raises several questions. Chief among those: Does this revelation make it more or less likely that he would accept the four-year max closer to $140 million that other teams can offer him this summer? You would think a guy who underwent knee surgery last season might want to maximize his earning power between now and his retirement from basketball, and locking into a five-year, $190 million deal with the Sixers assures him of that. On the other hand, we suddenly have to wonder if Butler even wants to play another five seasons in the NBA.
If Butler isn’t blowing smoke, he now must decide: Do I want to finish my career with the Sixers? This new deadline might make trading his next contract all the more difficult, were the partnership ever to sour over the years. The Minnesota Timberwolves can tell the Sixers all about the likelihood of that. If he has plans beyond basketball, does that now factor into where he ends up on his next contract?
What does this mean for the 76ers?
Butler’s timeline makes everything more finite. Philadelphia’s trade of Dario Saric, Robert Covington and a future draft pick was surely made with the hope that this was a longterm investment, and we are now being led to believe there is a strict limit on his value. This also outlines a smaller window for what the Sixers hoped would be a title contender for the better part of the next decade. Joel Embiid will be 30 and Ben Simmons 28 when Butler turns 35. That Butler won’t play well into his mid-30s — and the Sixers may not be able to turn him into a greater asset before then — heightens the urgency.
On the bright side, the Sixers need not worry about preserving Butler into his late thirties. They can squeeze every last ounce of his ability over the course of his next contract. Not that such a strategy would be anything new to Butler, who has played the majority of his career for Tom Thibodeau — a coach whose minutes loads have run a number of players into the ground before the end of their primes. No sense in maintaining his current six-year-low average of 31.7 minutes per game, I guess.
Everything is more complicated now, which is what we’ve come to expect with all things Jimmy Butler.
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