The Sixers Reportedly Let Jimmy Butler Walk Due To Ben Simmons’ Frustrations About Playing Off Ball

The Philadelphia 76ers have been bounced from the playoffs earlier than expected once again, and this year’s exit against the Atlanta Hawks seems to set the table for a wild offseason in Philly. The Sixers didn’t just lose, but they did so in dramatic fashion on multiple occasions, most notably blowing an 18-point lead in Game 4 and then a 26-point lead in Game 5. After taking an early fourth quarter lead in Game 7, they once again saw their offense stall out in crucial moments late.

The play that stuck out to many, including Joel Embiid who called it “the turning point,” was Ben Simmons passing up an open dunk to tie the game, choosing instead to drop it off to Matisse Thybulle who got fouled and split the free throws. The Sixers would never reclaim the lead, eventually losing 103-96, and Simmons became the lead topic of conversation after the game.

Simmons, to his credit, answered all the questions about his offensive struggles, but his continued push back on the idea he needs to be more of a scorer, having not taken a field goal attempt in the last four fourth quarters of the series, points to the issues the Sixers have with how they are currently constructed. Simmons is their point guard, and it’s nearly impossible to run a coherent offense late in games when your point guard isn’t a threat to try and score. The hand-wringing over Simmons not shooting threes is overblown (as it has been with Giannis Antetokounmpo), but more concerning is his lack of desire to try and get downhill to the basket — in part due to his woeful free throw shooting.

Whether the Sixers should trade Simmons has become the lead topic for every sports show, and while that may seem dramatic, it’s clear that as constructed things aren’t working. Others are insistent that the Simmons-Embiid pairing can work out if they add another lead ball-handler for situations like they ran into against the Hawks, but a recent piece from Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports points to the problem with that assessment. The Sixers had that in Jimmy Butler, but let him walk in a head-scratching decision in 2019. Apparently, Simmons’ frustration with being pushed off the ball in the 2019 Playoffs played a role in the decision not to push harder to re-sign Butler.

According to league sources, Simmons’ frustration at being relegated to off-ball duty during the team’s 2019 second-round loss to the Raptors contributed to the front office’s decision to not re-sign Jimmy Butler. Brown had handed Butler the keys to the offense, and management was worried how Simmons would handle having Butler around and monopolizing crunch-time playmaking duties for multiple years.

If true, and Weitzman is incredibly plugged in with the Sixers so there’s little reason to question that it played a part, then it might simply be time for a change for the sake of everyone. It’s clear the Sixers need someone capable of initiating and creating not just for the team but for themselves in those situations, and Simmons isn’t willing to be the shot-taker. If he’s also not willing to take an off-ball role, then it’s simply not a tenable situation. What makes this even more interesting is a lot of the popular trade destinations for Simmons would likely involve him needing to take more of an off-ball role offensively at times — particularly Portland, where a CJ McCollum for Simmons (with other players and draft picks involved possibly) has become a popular swap that seems to benefit both parties.

Weitzman’s piece details the good and bad of Simmons, as well as how his defiant nature is at times his best attribute and in others his worst enemy. In this case, it seems like the latter as he’s insistent his way of playing can work and should work with him on the ball, while the results indicate that it doesn’t.