NEW YORK – The plan has always been to keep Jimmy Butler past this season.
That's why the 76ers acquired the four-time All-Star from the Minnesota Timberwolves in a blockbuster trade. The eighth-year veteran is finally the Sixers' third star they needed to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Butler can opt out of the final year of his contract – 2019-20 – next summer and become a free agent. At that time, he and the Sixers expect to reach a deal on a long-term contract.
The swingman, who is averaging 20.9 points per game, was asked Sunday if he thinks he has found a home with the Sixers.
"We'll worry about that when the times comes," Butler said. "But I really do like it here. I'll tell you that."
He went on to give the customary response about not knowing what the future holds. Yet, Butler added: "This is a hell of a locker room, a hell of a staff. I could see this being home, yes."
The one thing the Texas native didn't mention: He has a financial benefit to play in Philadelphia.
The Sixers can offer him a five-year, $190 million max contract next summer due to having his Bird rights. Other teams would be able to offer Butler only a four-year, $141 million max contract in free agency.
Trading for Butler was the best option for a Sixers team determined to settle for nothing less than an A-list talent to play alongside their two young stars, Simmons and Embiid. That's because the Sixers failed in their "star hunting" effort last summer despite being among a small number of teams with available cap space for max deals.
This summer, they'll be one of 13 teams able to offer max salaries. Two other teams — the Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns — should be at least close to max-level money to tender offers.
Most A-list free agents are expected to re-sign with their own teams, strongly consider joining LeBron James with the Los Angeles Lakers, or go somewhere where they can be an alpha dog. Any top free agent will be hard-pressed to play that role in Philly — which is, without question, Embiid's team.
But right now they have Butler, who immediately made the Sixers a more competitive team. On Sunday, the 29-year-old made his second game-winning shot in five games: His step-back three in front of the Brooklyn Nets bench with 0.4 seconds left lifted the Sixers to a 127-125 victory. On Nov. 17, he hit a game-winning step-back three-pointer from the same spot with 0.3 seconds left in a 122-119 overtime win over the Charlotte Hornets on the road.
Butler is ranked second in the NBA in steals at 2.29 per game behind Thunder forward Paul George (2.31) heading into Monday night's game. Former Sixer Robert Covington is third (2.26). The Sixers shipped Covington — along with Jerryd Bayless, Dario Saric and a 2022 second-round pick — to Minnesota earlier this month.