ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Time, right now, is Jimmy Butler’s best friend.
That’s all that the Philadelphia 76ers and their newest player need. They will figure things out, figure out who goes where and who does what in every situation. In time, they’ll be able to get back to their usual arsenal of plays and sets, a repertoire they had to pare down considerably for Butler’s debut with his new club.
There were promising moments Wednesday night. There were also some moments of confusion, some mistakes at the absolute wrong times. In the end, it all added up to Philadelphia losing Butler’s debut with the 76ers — Orlando beating them 111-106 in a game where Philly led by 16 in the fourth quarter before the Magic ripped off a 21-0 run.
Patience is required when an NBA team makes a move of this magnitude, and Butler knows that.
“How tough will it be? Nah, it’s not hard at all,” Butler said after scoring 14 points. “So far we all get along. I think that’s the first thing — we all want each other to be great. We’re all talking about where we’re supposed to be and what we see out there on the floor.
“I’m telling you, it’s coming sooner rather than later. We’re going to be just fine.”
That wasn’t the case Wednesday. Butler, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons — the NBA’s newest incarnation of a Big Three — shot a combined 1 for 9 in the fourth quarter, the big lead slipped away and the game was soon gone.
“You’re disappointed to lose with it Jimmy’s first game,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “But there are a lot of good things you can see that can happen.”
This has been a whirlwind for the four-time All-Star. Butler was traded Monday to the 76ers by Minnesota, flew to Orlando on Tuesday and went to a team dinner that night. His first and only practice was the shootaround session Wednesday morning. Butler met with Brown to go over things, got 1-on-1 advice from JJ Redick before leaving with a basic understanding of what the 76ers wanted to run.
They didn’t lose because Butler was confused, because he wasn’t. They didn’t lose because they dumbed-down the gameplan, either. Orlando got hot at the precise moment that Philadelphia went cold, and that just happens.
But even in a losing locker room, Philly’s players knew they had just seen flashes of potential.
“Having a guy like that, somebody who’s going to push everybody, he’s going to help a lot,” Simmons said.
Philly was an Eastern Conference contender before Butler got there, and having him only further legitimizes those hopes. The 76ers now are about to play seven of their next nine games at home, with the first eight of those games against clubs either at or below .500 right now. It’s not exactly a daunting stretch of games, which is perfect for the 76ers as they try to figure out what works best for the new guy.
He’s not worried.
“It’s going to be easy to play with those guys,” Butler said.
And if there’s a team that knows how to value taking time, it’s Philadelphia. “The Process” was a grind of loss after dizzying loss and it lasted years. The 76ers were a laughingstock, a punch line, and they stuck to their convictions because they believed it would work.
Now, they’re an East favorite, a legit title hopeful.
“The life that we have lived in Philadelphia from being 1-30 to now,” Brown said. “Think about that.”
He sounds like he’s speaking of a faraway time, but it isn’t.
The 76ers woke up on Christmas in 2015 with a 1-30 record. They had losing streaks of 12, 12, 13 and 18 games that season alone on their way to the Rock Bottom that was 10-72. The year before, they started 0-17. Here’s how atrociously and historically bad they were: Even after going 52-30 last season, even if they go 66-0 the rest of this season and if they go 82-0 next season, Brown would still have a career record below .500.
There’s pressure now. The burden of expectation.
Brown knows it all exists, but doesn’t seem to mind.
“It’s going to take time,” Brown said, then repeated those words. “It’s going to take time.”
The biggest question is how much time Philadelphia is going to need before it figures everything out.
“When we put this thing together,” Butler said, “we’re going to be tough.”
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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