The Sixers made a couple of major moves this season by acquiring Jimmy Butler in November, and then adding Tobias Harris prior to the NBA’s trade deadline in February. Both players are set to hit free agency this summer, and while the organization has said that the plan is to retain both players, doing so would be extremely costly, and would greatly hamper the team’s financial flexibility moving forward.

This is not to say that they shouldn’t look to bring back both Butler and Harris on long-term deals, just that doing so would be a major financial decision that will shape the fate of the franchise – for better or for worse – for the next half-decade or more.

In reality, what the Sixers decide to do over the offseason will likely depend on how the upcoming playoff push shakes out. If the Sixers continue to gel as a group and show signs of being a legitimate contender moving forward – even if they don’t make a Finals appearance this season – then ownership and the front office would feel comfortable with handing out major paydays to both Butler and Harris.

However, if the team falters down the stretch, and it becomes somehow apparent that Embiid-Simmons-Butler-Harris won’t work as a foursome moving forward, well then decisions will have to be made. And in that case, if it came down to it, Sixers fans would [overwhelmingly] prefer Harris over Butler long-term.

Based on a Twitter poll that had nearly 3,000 responses, 91 percent would prefer Harris over Butler long-term if it came down to signing one or the other to a max deal.


The results aren’t even close, but there are a couple of logical reasons that can probably explain the discrepancy.

First is age, as Harris is three years younger than Butler, who will turn 30 in September. The late 20’s – early 30’s serve as the time of many players’ prime, so fans probably think that Harris will be at the peak of his powers for longer than Butler will be moving forward.

Then, there’s the shooting: Harris takes – and makes – three’s at a high rate. Since joining the Sixers, he has attempted 6.8 three’s per game – and converted at a 39 percent rate. On the other hand, Butler has taken just 2.9 three’s per game with the Sixers (and made 34 percent of them). In today’s NBA, where there is such an emphasis placed on shooting, high-volume floor-spacers are increasingly valuable, especially when paired along with two players that greatly benefit from such spacing like Embiid and Simmons. Thus, Harris is more obviously attractive in this area.

Plus, some of Butler’s main on-court contributions – like getting deflections and playing solid team defense - are more nuanced and less easily detected by the average fan.

Lastly, there’s personal perception. Fairly or unfairly, Butler has earned a reputation as a difficult locker room presence during his career, while Harris seems to be universally liked.

All of those factors together likely account for the enormous gap in the poll results.

It is worth repeating that the posted poll was merely a hypothetical exercise, and that the Sixers could – and have stated that they plan to – keep both Butler and Harris for the foreseeable future.


Follow Michael Kaskey-Blomain on Twitter @therealmikekb.

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