Going into the offseason, #RunItBack became a popular mantra. If most fans learned when Kawhi Leonard’s shot eventually bounced in that the Sixers weren’t going to re-sign Butler, it wouldn’t have been pretty.
Butler was fresh off a fantastic postseason performance and had endeared himself to Philadelphia with his toughness, intensity and late-game heroics.
But as we sit here on July 1, after a flurry of moves by general manager Elton Brand, the Sixers could very well have “the best defense in the NBA” — and may be the team to beat in Eastern Conference.
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No matter what set of circumstances you believe about why or how Butler ended up in South Beach, what’s done is done. Brand did well to get a good young wing in Josh Richardson and the necessary cap space to sign veteran big man Al Horford.
“It’s all a risk, but a worthy gamble, even if this wasn’t Plan A,” NBC Sports national NBA insider Tom Haberstroh writes. “The Sixers are building twin towers with Horford and [Joel] Embiid, two of the most skilled bigs in the NBA. In his age-32 season, Horford was among the top-20 or top-30 players in the league last season, depending on who you ask or which metric you consult.”
So much of how successful the Sixers can be will fall on Horford, who just turned 33. As Haberstroh mentions in the story, Horford is the rare player that can play next to and back up Embiid — and do so at a high level.
As we all saw, Brett Brown desperately searched for a solution to backing up Embiid all the way up until the Game 7 loss to the Raptors. Embiid was incredibly a plus-10 in 45 minutes of a game his team lost by two points. Greg Monroe, even more incredibly, was a minus-9 in two (2!) minutes. That coupled with the injury history of Embiid was enough for Brand to offer a big payday to Horford.
As for Richardson, he’s an emerging player who's known for his defense, but has seen his offensive game grow. According to Haberstroh, there's been one interesting NBA player comparison for Richardson.
“Ironically, for years, Richardson drew a ton of Jimmy Butler comps internally among Heat staffers,” Haberstroh writes.
It’s a fair parallel when you consider their stories. Butler was the last pick of the first round in 2011 and Richardson was drafted 40th overall in 2015. Richardson has increased his scoring average in each of the first four seasons in the league, posting 16.6 points per game last season while making 164 three-pointers at a 35.7 percent clip. According to ESPN’s real plus-minus, only seven shooting guards in the NBA posted a positive (better than average) impact on both ends of the floor, including Richardson and Butler.
Obviously, Richardson is not Butler and it would be completely unfair to think he’ll bring the same thing to the Sixers.
But that’s not what this team needs. They have two young All-Stars in Embiid and Ben Simmons and a borderline All-Star they just locked up for the next five years in Tobias Harris. They now have two excellent “complementary” pieces for their starting five.
“With Horford and Richardson, the Sixers have the ability to flaunt the best defense in the NBA next season,” Haberstroh writes. “Their five starters are all average or better on that end of the floor. Embiid and Simmons have the potential to win the Defensive Player of the Year award.”
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