Jimmy Butler, Miami's ceiling exposed in Game 4 loss to Celtics I THE HERD

Colin Cowherd says the Miami Heat has little margin for error going into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals after losing soundly to the Boston Celtics by 20 points in Game 4. While he maintains Jayson Tatum’s Celtics aren’t talented enough to phone it in against Jimmy Butler, Colin shares why he still believes the Celtics have exposed Miami’s ceiling.

5 MINUTES AGO・The Herd with Colin Cowherd・4:40

FILM ROOM: The Steelers are deep enough at ILB, but are they good enough?

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are very deep at ILB, but is that quality depth?

This article is a follow up to the “Here We Go” podcast Bryan Anthony Davis and I did last Friday. Our focus was on inside linebackers, where the Steelers have seven viable players competing for what will likely be five roster spots. In that sense, the team is deep enough at the position. But is it good enough? That’s a question worth considering as we head towards the season.

The seven players in question include returning starter Devin Bush, free agent acquisition Myles Jack, veteran thumper Robert Spillane, fourth-year player Ulysses Gilbert III, converted safety Marcus Allen, second-year man Buddy Johnson, and rookie 7th Round draft pick Mark Robinson. It’s a group that lacks star power, in the sense there’s no elite player among them, but is deep in terms of athleticism and potential. The Steelers would probably be comfortable keeping any of the seven on their active roster. That won’t happen, though, given the restraints of the 53-man limit. So, at least one, and likely two, won’t make it.

Here’s a quick breakdown of each candidate before we turn to the question of whether the unit as a whole is good enough to be successful.

Devin Bush

Bush struggled last season as he recovered from the knee injury he suffered in 2020. He will have plenty of incentive to play better this year, considering the Steelers declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which will make him a free agent after the season. Bush will be playing for a new deal, either in Pittsburgh or somewhere else.

When we watch his film from last season, we see a player who was limited both mentally and physically. The physical part was obvious, given his attempt to make a quick turnaround from his ACL tear. The mental part is probably tougher for fans to understand. I tore my labrum and dislocated my shoulder during my sophomore season in college, which required surgery. I was not the same player as a junior. I developed a bad habit of using the wrong shoulder when taking on blocks for fear of re-injury. A dislocation is not pleasant, and the labrum tear required extensive rehabilitation. It was in the back of my mind that entire season, and it wasn’t until senior year, when I knew the shoulder was healthy, that I felt confident again.

Bush must have similar concerns about his knee, especially since he’s playing on a far bigger stage. You could see him struggle with change-of-direction last season, which likely signaled a hesitancy to push off and burst. Hopefully, his confidence improves this year, which should equate to better performance.

More troubling with Bush, though, are some of the fundamental errors he made that have nothing to do with his injury. Take this play from the Week 11 loss to the Chargers. Bush, aligned on the hash at the 1-yard line, gets fooled on a counter run. He should dual-read the guards, meaning he should diagnose the action of both guards at once. This may seem difficult, but “reading the triangle,” meaning seeing all the movement in the area between both guards to the running back, is common for inside backers. This would allow Bush to see the pull from the right guard and to work in that direction. Instead, he gets influenced by the initial movement of the left guard, the center and the back, leading to a false step from which he cannot recover:

For Bush to improve, he can’t get caught out of position and imperil the gap-integrity of the scheme. He must be better with his eye discipline and play diagnosis. His speed is likely to recover, but the degree to which he can be more fundamentally sound will greatly impact the success of the defense.

Myles Jack

Jack is the best pure linebacker of the seven players we’re examining. He was slowed by injuries in 2019 and 2020, when he missed seven combined games, but he rebounded in 2021 to total 108 tackles, the third time he’s breached the century mark in his six-year career. When healthy, he’s played at a Pro Bowl level and could be the best inside backer in Pittsburgh since Ryan Shazier.

There are questions about how well he’ll fit along side Bush, though, since the two have comparable skill sets. Traditionally, the Steelers have slotted one inside backer at the Buck and another at the Mack. The Buck is often the bigger of the two and is commonly tasked with playing downhill and filling gaps. The Mack is more of a scrape-and-chase weak-side defender who tends to be more athletic and cover more ground. Bush and Jack both seem better suited to play the Mack. Which, then, will draw the dirtier, more physical duties of the Buck?

That may fall to Jack since, at present, he’s more accomplished at reading and shedding blocks. He’s also bigger, at 6’1-245, compared to Bush (5’11-235). When the defensive line can keep Jack clean, he’s shown he can play well on the strong side. Watch here how patient he is, and how he stays in good tackling position by remaining square. This is excellent fundamental linebacker play:

A defensive front that returns Tyson Alualu and, hopefully, Stephon Tuitt should be better at anchoring the line of scrimmage than they were last season. If Jack stays healthy, this may allow him to flourish.

Robert Spillane

With Spillane, you know exactly what you’re getting: a Buck linebacker who plays downhill like it’s 1989. Spillane has limited range and can struggle in coverage. But as a situational run-stuffer, he’s excellent.

It’s hard to forget Spillane’s signature hit on Tennessee’s 250-pound battering ram Derrick Henry in this game from 2020. The GIF doesn’t do the hit justice because you can’t hear the sound it made when Spillane crashed into Henry at full speed. Think two rams colliding in the Rocky Mountain wilderness:

Spillane’s value to the Steelers is clear. He’s not ideal if asked to play every down. But, as a role player who specializes in stopping the run, he possesses a necessary skill set.

Ulysses Gilbert III

No one around BTSC has followed Gilbert’s career as closely as Shannon White, so I reached out to Shannon for his thoughts. Here’s a screen shot of his reply:

The injury Shannon references occurred when Gilbert was a rookie in 2019 and flared up again in 2020. Like Bush, it seems to have affected his performance on the field. Gilbert has made some solid contributions on special teams, including a scoop-and-score off a blocked punt in the season-opening win at Buffalo last season. However, with tough competition for the roster spots at inside backer, Gilbert may have to show he can do more to stick around.

Marcus Allen

Some fans were puzzled when the Steelers brought Allen back this off-season on a one-year, $2.5 million contract. Allen played just 6% of the team’s defensive snaps last season, and was unremarkable in doing so. At 6’2-215, he is undersized at both the Mack and the Buck, so it’s hard to see where he fits. Perhaps, with new defensive assistant Brian Flores on board, Allen will be used as a blitzer and coverage specialist. Flores likes versatile players who can execute a variety of roles, and he may have something in mind for Allen. Otherwise, Allen will have to make the roster on special teams. He was valuable there last season, playing 65% of the special teams snaps. The Steelers will have to decide if that’s enough to warrant a $2.5 million salary.

Neither Allen nor Gilbert has really distinguished themself in Pittsburgh, so It seems unlikely the Steelers will keep both. It may be a competition between the two for a single roster spot.

Buddy Johnson

One of the more intriguing players of the inside linebacker group is second-year man Buddy Johnson. Johnson is built like a Buck at 6’2-240 and certainly hits like one. In college, he had over 200 career tackles while showing good instincts and a knack for finding the football.

Johnson was active for just four games last season, with his only action on defense coming in Week 14 at Minnesota. That provides a limited sample size, but does give us a peek at his abilities.

First, we can see how quick he is to read his keys and react. Johnson (45), aligned on the right hash, recognizes the full-flow of this wide zone run play and does a nice job beating the cut-off block of the right offensive tackle. He’s a little too aggressive and winds up over-pursuing, leading to an attempted arm tackle on Dalvin Cook. But you can see the suddenness with which he plays, which is attractive in any linebacker:

In pass coverage, Johnson was thought to be a liability coming out of college. He had some good reps against the Vikings, though, especially this snap. Watch as Johnson (45, right hash) shows nice agility in recovering from his initial reaction to the play fake, and good fluidity in his hips when changing direction. He does a great job sinking under the crossing route to force quarterback Kirk Cousins to come off that read and throw into a tight window, leading to an interception:

Again, it’s a very small sample size, but there are some encouraging signs on tape.

Interest in Johnson should be elevated by Pittsburgh’s decision to decline Bush’s fifth-year option. This means the Steelers could need a starter to play beside Jack in 2023. With Jack a more natural fit at the Mack, and Johnson a true Buck, those two are an intriguing duo. Johnson has a long way to go before being anointed a starter, but he has the tools to make it happen.

Mark Robinson

7th Round pick Mark Robinson screams “project.” He’s a converted running back who played just one year of linebacker at Ole Miss. There is little chance he will contribute to the defense in 2022. However, he’s an explosive player who accelerates to contact with great aggressiveness and, once he gets there, knows how to finish:

That aggression can be detrimental, as Robinson can be fooled and run himself out of position. He has a lot to learn to master the nuances of playing linebacker. The Steelers would probably love to stash him on the practice squad for a year and work on his development. He may, however, show enough with his ability to run and hit to retain as a sixth inside backer and special teams contributor. One way or another, my suspicion is Robinson will stick around. He’s an intriguing player with enough potential for the Steelers to keep him.

Are the Steelers good enough at inside backer?

I think the answer is yes, but that comes with caveats. Yes, if Bush plays more like he did before the injury. Yes, if Jack can hold up at the Buck. Yes, if Spillane can not get exposed. Yes, if Johnson shows progress. That foursome could be pretty good, provided the Steelers get something close to a best-case scenario out of each.

If things go south, however, and the injury bug that has hindered Bush and Jack resurfaces, and Spillane has to play more than he should, and Johnson isn’t able to handle a bigger role, and Allen and/or Gilbert continue to display their limitations, then the answer is no. There’s an uncertainty about this unit that is concerning. Things have to break the right way for them. Should they, it could be a strength of the defense. If not, the Steelers will lament they didn’t do more to bolster it when they had the chance.

Juwan Howard turns down L.A. coaching job, Lakers losing appeal? I THE HERD

It looks like Juwan Howard is headed back to Michigan after reportedly declining a head coaching job from the Los Angeles Lakers. Colin Cowherd explores whether or not this Lakers’ team is losing it’s attraction, and compares them to the Detroit Lions, who seem to recycle coaches at an alarming speed.

A DAY AGO・The Herd with Colin Cowherd・3:22

No parole for slain NBA player Wright's ex-wife

2:10 PM ET

Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Lorenzen Wright’s ex-wife will not be granted early release from a 30-year prison sentence she received after pleading guilty to plotting the retired NBA player’s 2010 slaying, the Tennessee Board of Parole said Monday.

The board voted to deny parole for Sherra Wright, who entered a guilty plea in July 2019 to facilitation of first-degree murder in her ex-husband’s killing. The decision was reached after three of seven board members agreed to deny her release based on the seriousness of her offense, board spokesman Dustin Krugel said in an email to The Associated Press.

Sherra Wright appeared at a parole hearing May 11 at the prison in Nashville where she is being held. Wright said she has done well in classes she is taking from prison and has a support system to help her when she is released. Two of her children gave statements on

Steph Curry, Warriors take 3-0 lead on Mavericks in WCF

Stephen Curry scored 31 points, Andrew Wiggins added 27 while posterizing Luka Dončić on a dunk and the Golden State Warriors beat the Dallas Mavericks, 109-100, Sunday night for a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Klay Thompson scored 19 with a pair of big fourth-quarter 3-pointers as the Warriors moved within a victory of a return to the NBA Finals, three years after the end of a run of five consecutive trips that yielded three championships.

Golden State, which swept Portland in its most recent West finals in 2019 before Toronto won the title, goes for the sweep in Game 4 on Tuesday in Dallas. No team has rallied from 3-0 down to win an NBA playoff series.

Dončić scored 40 points and beat the first-quarter buzzer with a 32-footer that got the crowd going with the Mavericks again at home trailing 2-0, as they did against top-seeded Phoenix before winning the West semifinal series in seven games.

But that shimmy-inducing bucket was a blip on an otherwise rough night from 3-point range for the Mavericks, who missed their first seven and finished 13 of 45.

Luka’s 40 points can’t keep Mavs from 0-3 deficit Luka's 40 points can't keep Mavs from 0-3 deficit

Juwan Howard reportedly declines overture from Lakers

It looks like Michigan Wolverines head coach Juwan Howard isn’t packing it up for the NBA after all, as he has declined a chance to interview for the Los Angeles Lakers’ vacant head coach job.

Howard is reportedly opting to stay put in Ann Arbor at his alma mater to coach his two sons next season.

Howard declined to interview despite having a history with both Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka — who played with Howard at Michigan — and LeBron James — with whom he won back-to-back NBA championships with the Miami Heat.

Howard spent the final three years of his playing career with the Heat before immediately joining Miami’s coaching staff ahead of the 2013-14 season. Howard previously interviewed for the Lakers’ head coach position in 2019 when he was a Miami assistant before taking his current position at Michigan.

Howard, the 2021 AP Coach of the Year, is 93-61 in three seasons at Michigan. His team reached a top-five position in the polls in all three seasons. He also won a Big Ten regular-season title and made two trips to the NCAA Tournament.

Howard will have his work cut out for him this upcoming season as he tries to bounce back from a 19-15 (.559) season, with Wolverines star forward Moussa Diabaté likely to be drafted this summer.

Los Angeles also struggled in the 2021-22 season, finishing 11th in the West at 33-49. Former head coach Frank Vogel was relieved of his duties shortly after the season ended. 

Seven individuals have held the head coaching position since Phil Jackson departed after the 2010-2011 season. Jackson is reportedly advising the Lakers on their coaching search.

With Howard out of the mix, the coaches the Lakers are expected to interview include Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, Golden State Warriors assistant Kenny Atkinson and former Portland Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts.

Los Angeles also recently interviewed former Warriors coach Mark Jackson, who was among the finalists for the Sacramento Kings‘ head coach opening.

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Top 50 NBA players from last 50 years: James Harden ranks No. 25

Editor’s Note: As part of a new series for his podcast, “What’s Wright with Nick Wright,” FOX Sports commentator Nick Wright is ranking the 50 best NBA players of the last 50 years. The countdown continues today with player No. 25, James Harden.

James Harden’s career highlights:

  • 2018 MVP
  • 10-time All-Star
  • Six-time first-team All-NBA, one-time third team
  • Three-time scoring champion
  • One-time assists champion
  • 2012 Sixth Man of the Year
  • 2010 All-Rookie team

James Harden is an offensive savant.

Philadelphia 76ers president and former Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey went so far as to say he is a better scorer than Michael Jordan. Morey, in fact, called Harden “by far” the best scorer ever. His logic is rooted in advanced metrics like true shooting percentage and points per possession.

Harden does top Jordan in those stats, though he’s not alone given that such formulas reward efficient, high-volume 3-point shooting that wasn’t prioritized in previous eras. Debates involving “His Airness” aside, Harden’s traditional numbers are pretty spectacular, too.

“His regular-season résumé is that of one of the greatest players of all time,” Wright said.

James Harden is No. 25 on Nick Wright’s Top 50 NBA Players of the Last 50 Years James Harden is No. 25 on Nick Wright's Top 50 NBA Players of the Last 50 Years

James Harden has always been known to score in various ways, but he’s most recognized for his patented

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Biggest early NBA surprises and disappointments so far

Which NBA teams and players have surprised the most after one week of basketball? Who have been the biggest disappointments?

Only four teams (the Philadelphia 76ers, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets) remain undefeated, and the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans are still looking for victories.

Our experts answer the big questions about the season so far, including big takeaways, best rookies and do-over predictions.

More: NBA Power Rankings | Reunion tour

1. What has been your biggest takeaway from the first week of games?

Bobby Marks: Three teams projected to finish at the bottom of their conferences — Minnesota, Cleveland and Phoenix — failed to get the message. The general manager of a playoff squad told me last week that the teams with new head coaches and low expectations are the ones you do not want to face early in the season. Teams with a fresh start can surprise before the middle part of the season, when losing becomes a habit and players start looking toward the offseason.

Royce Young: It was hard not to leave the arena somewhat affected by the Golden State Warriors‘ dismal performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. Their first half was one of the worst you’re ever going to see an NBA team play, in all facets: rebounding, defense, turnovers, shooting, dribbling, running, walking. The Warriors rallied Monday against New Orleans, and they are dealing with injuries at key spots, but the abrupt fall from clear contender to this is still jarring.

Andrew Lopez: The East might be a little bit deeper than we thought. Philadelphia and Milwaukee were expected to waltz to the conference finals, but that might not be the case. The defending champion Raptors aren’t going away easily. Miami is quietly cooking down in South Beach. Trae Young has looked mighty good, and Detroit might even make some noise with the way Derrick Rose and Andre Drummond are playing.

Tim Bontemps: The 76ers are going to win a lot of games in very ugly fashion. Philadelphia’s size across the board gives the team a chance to end this season with the NBA’s best defense, which will likely need to be the case given that Philly can’t shoot. The Sixers have gone 31-for-104 from deep so far, but with their size and defense, it isn’t going to matter most nights.

Kevin Pelton: NBA teams are pushing the pace even further. This time last year, there were an average of 105.4 possessions per 48 minutes for each team, portending the league’s jump over 100 possessions per 48-minute game for the first time in nearly three decades. That’s up again so far this year, with an average of 106.3 possessions per 48 minutes. Although pace tends to drop over the course of the season, we’re still likely in for our fastest season in recent memory.

2. What has been the biggest surprise so far?

Lopez: Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it looks like early reports of the Spurs’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. Every season, people try to say the end of the Spurs is imminent, and every season, San Antonio seems to bounce right back. San Antonio went 3-0 in the opening week, and FiveThirtyEight still gives the team just a 15% chance to make the playoffs.

Marks: The Suns. Their biggest offseason addition was not Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes or Kelly Oubre. That honor goes to new head coach Monty Williams. In Saturday’s win against the LA Clippers without Rubio and Deandre Ayton, Williams used the next-man-up approach in steering the team to a win. Remember this is the same Phoenix that didn’t win its second game until Nov. 2 last year.

Young: I predicted they’d get the East’s last playoff spot, but the Atlanta Hawks look like they’re taking a real step forward. For every young team, it has to come at some point … or not at all. The Hawks look like a group of young, talented players who are developing while learning how to win. Trae Young has a great chance to be an All-Star, and 40 wins doesn’t feel at all unattainable.

Pelton: Even though I was higher on the Suns than most because of their strong statistical projections, I didn’t expect them to start 2-2 against a difficult schedule with a win over the Clippers and a pair of one-point losses to Denver and Utah. Phoenix has been shockingly competent on defense and has thus far survived Ayton’s suspension without missing a beat.

Bontemps: Miami Heat rookie Kendrick Nunn. Nunn’s going from barely starting in the G League last season to averaging more than 22 PPG is the latest impressive success story for Miami’s player development department. Even when Jimmy Butler comes back following the birth of his child, Nunn will be a starter or remain a core part of Miami’s rotation.

(Nunn ended up in the G League after going undrafted in 2018 in part because of a 2016 guilty plea to a lesser charge of misdemeanor battery stemming from an incident in which a woman told police that he choked her during a dispute over an unpaid debt. Nunn denied choking her but admitted to pouring water on her head during the argument.)

3. What has been the biggest disappointment so far?

Pelton: Despite a comfortable win Monday over a short-handed Pelicans squad, I’m still going with the Warriors, who have the NBA’s third-worst point differential (minus-12.0 PPG). Although hot opponent 3-point shooting isn’t sustainable and Golden State will get healthier in the frontcourt, the lack of competitive fight in the team’s first two losses was shocking to see. It forced Steve Kerr to play his “break glass in case of emergency” option and turn to Draymond Green at center far earlier than he wanted.

Lopez: I didn’t know where to put the Kings before the season, but I didn’t think they’d end up getting blown out by the Suns on opening night. The Kings followed that with a 10-point loss to Portland before a 113-81 loss to Utah. Sacramento put up a fight against Denver on Monday before falling to 0-4. Things don’t look so bright in Sactown early this season.

Bontemps: I was out on the Pacers to begin with, but this has been a truly dreadful start. Two losses to the Detroit Pistons without Blake Griffin and being blown out by the Cleveland Cavaliers — perhaps the league’s worst team — is far from the way the Pacers hoped to start, even with Victor Oladipo sidelined. The Pacers badly miss Bojan Bogdanovic, and they’ve continued their blah offensive performances from the previous season. They have several more soft games coming up to try to get themselves right. Indiana better do it quickly.

Young: Zion Williamson‘s injury. The Pelicans mostly have been competitive without him, but not having Zion has been a major bummer for them and the league. The Pelicans need to tread some water in the weeks they’ll be without him, or they risk falling into a tough hole in a deep Western Conference. That’s especially important for a young team trying to find its way.

Marks: Sacramento. The Kings look more like a team that will be analyzing lottery combinations than one competing for a final playoff spot. They rank near the bottom in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Even the backcourt of the future of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield looks less than formidable. Because the Kings have been so poor on defense, they can’t generate as many fast break points as they did last season, when they ranked first in the league.

4. Which rookie has made the best first impression?

Pelton: Nunn has made the most of his opportunity as a starter in Miami, averaging 22.3 PPG while making 58% of his 2-point attempts and 42% of his 3s. I’d like to see Nunn look to make more plays for teammates, but that won’t matter if he remains so efficient as a scorer.

Lopez: Yeah, take a bow, Kendrick Nunn. He showed out in the preseason with a 40-point contest against Houston and has made the most of Jimmy Butler’s paternity leave with efficient shooting in 31.7 minutes per night.

Marks: Agreed on Nunn. His play — and the early returns on Tyler Herro — make veteran guard Dion Waiters expendable, though Waiters is likely close to untradable.

Bontemps: Nunn has been terrific, but I can’t help but pick Ja Morant after watching what he did again the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. Not only did Morant make a game-tying shot late in regulation, but he also blocked Kyrie Irving‘s potential game-winning jumper and assisted Jae Crowder on the clincher in overtime. The Grizzlies are in good hands with him running the show for years to come.

Young: Morant’s closing sequence in regulation against Kyrie and the Nets is going to stick in a lot of people’s minds all the way to Rookie of the Year voting. That’s the kind of early statement that can build momentum and carry throughout the season. One less splashy name: Rui Hachimura, who looks smooth and versatile as a hybrid 3/4 in Washington.

5. You get one preseason prediction do-over. What is it?

Bontemps: I thought the Bulls had a chance to be pretty good and contend for a playoff spot. That isn’t looking so hot after they lost to the Hornets, barely beat the Grizzlies, got pounded at home by the Raptors and blew a lead against the Knicks. Unless things change quickly, this could be another lost season for Chicago.

Young: The Warriors making the playoffs. It feels knee-jerky, but like I said, I was affected seeing it firsthand. If things get worse, there has to be some consideration to peeling back, resting Steph Curry and Draymond Green periodically and tanking the season. It takes all pressure off Klay Thompson to return quickly, letting the team focus on the young players and target a lottery pick to prepare for a retool.

Lopez: Before Zion Williamson’s knee injury, he was my pick for Rookie of the Year. Then I changed it to Michael Porter Jr. With my third shot at this, let me move on to Morant. In his first three games, Morant is averaging 18 points and six assists per game while shooting 51.2% overall and 50% from 3. Perhaps the most impressive thing has been his basketball IQ. His dish to Crowder for the game winner on Sunday was a veteran move.

Marks: Although my early July prediction of Golden State not making the playoffs is trending toward likely, I’ve missed the mark (so far) on the Kings getting in. If there were a do-over, Sacramento would be out, and the Mavericks would get the nod. Luka Doncic looks like an All-Star, and the return of Kristaps Porzingis has the Mavericks with two bona fide franchise players. This roster is deep enough to sustain an injury and still compete in the West for a 7- or 8-seed.

Pelton: If I were picking my eight West playoff teams today, I wouldn’t include the Warriors.

More: NBA Power Rankings | Reunion tour

Lowe: Philly's fit isn't great, but what if that doesn't matter?

It often feels like inexorable forces are driving the Philadelphia 76ers toward disharmony — and eventually to the breakup of their star core.

Jimmy Butler, the newest star, popped off about the team’s idiosyncratic offense. The Sixers don’t run many pick-and-rolls because their best ball handler, Ben Simmons, practically refuses to shoot outside the restricted area. Joel Embiid conceives of the restricted area as his territory; he beat Butler to moaning about his place in Philly’s new three-star ecosystem.

Every time the Sixers lose a high-profile game — especially to Boston — there are calls across the media for them to trade Simmons. Embiid is the superior player. Philly has built its half-court offense mostly around him. Simmons’ lack of a jump shot becomes more of a liability in the postseason, when the game slows.

The young cornerstones do not complement each other, at least not as much as you’d like. They run about 4.5 pick-and-rolls between them per 100 possessions, about the same frequency with which New York busts out the dreaded Allonzo Trier/Mario Hezonja two-man game, per Second Spectrum tracking data. Both need more shooting around them. Butler wants to bulldoze to the rim, too.

After a blowout loss Wednesday to the Washington Wizards, the Sixers have now scored 105.7 points per 100 possessions in 366 minutes with Simmons, Embiid and Butler on the floor — about equivalent to Detroit’s 23rd-ranked offense, per NBA.com.

The Sixers aren’t worried — yet. A lot of those minutes have come with wobbly backups starting in place of Wilson Chandler and JJ Redick. The sample size is small. Lots of indicators — namely the team’s shot profile in those 366 minutes — suggest the three-star alignment is working better than that 105.7 figure would have you believe. All three are elite defenders when engaged.

The Sixers went into the Butler experience with eyes wide open, and still hope to re-sign him this summer, sources say. He objected during that recent film session only after coach Brett Brown asked if anyone wanted to add something — and after an assistant coach nudged T.J. McConnell to speak about his concerns, sources say. Butler didn’t mention just his own role; he mentioned McConnell’s too.

“When you ask the team, ‘What do you see?’ you’d better be prepared to listen,” Brown told ESPN.com. “I’m OK with it. I have to be. I am the instigator.”

The Sixers know Embiid and Simmons are an awkward fit on offense. They know the history of young star duos portends a clash for control. They notice when two stars duck into the post at the same time, almost bumping each other:

They understand stashing Simmons in the dunker spot is an inelegant solution to getting him out of the way while Embiid posts up:

They feel the tension between a fast-break sprinter and a back-it-down bully. “That Ben is one of the three or four fastest players in the league — and that the game can sometimes just run past Joel — is both a blessing and a curse,” Brown says. “Joel needs the ball. This isn’t the 100-meter dash. Ben is getting better at recognizing that.”

Philly just got Butler, like, yesterday. Simmons has played 122 regular-season games. Philly is 18-9 since Butler suited up, and ranked eighth in points per possession. The Sixers’ healthy starting five is obliterating opponents by 15 points per 100 possessions — evidence that the stars work fine with legit starters around them.

All three have the talent and smarts to eventually wring more from what will always be an imperfect stylistic fit.

Embiid can trail fast breaks, grow into an average-ish 3-point shooter, and pump-and-drive past centers who can’t sniff his skill level. He touches the ball in the post about 12.5 times per 100 possessions when all three stars share the floor, per Second Spectrum. He gets more when Simmons is on the bench — about 19 per 100 possessions — but that 12.5 figure is on par with his pre-Butler average. It would rank sixth leaguewide. Embiid’s post game has not been marginalized.

Simmons and Butler are smart cutters who can post mismatches. Butler has hit more than 40 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3s over the last three seasons. The Sixers’ shot quality with all three stars on the floor is a hair higher than their overall average, per Second Spectrum; they feast in the restricted area. Three-star lineups have forced a preposterously low number of turnovers for reasons that are unclear and likely random. Toss in more easy transition points, and the numbers look different.

Still, there will be games when it doesn’t flow. Philly has scored more efficiently with any two of the threesome on the court, and the other resting, per NBA.com. Brown senses the strain of pleasing all three.

“I don’t enjoy feeling like a waiter — like I’m serving each of them food,” he says. “Although at times you have to be. Joel needs a touch. Ben needs to be posted. Jimmy needs a play. You hope the offense will dictate who gets shots, but it has been challenging.”

Butler has given up the most. He has finished only 18.7 percent of Philadelphia’s possessions when he plays with Simmons and Embiid — the usage rate of a role player. “At times, Jimmy doesn’t get the touches he needs,” Brown says. “That is true.”

Tough. This is usually how you win championships: join three great players, and figure out who needs to sacrifice what, and when, to beat top teams. The Warriors spoiled us into thinking that process is clean and easy. They are an anomaly, blessed with three of the greatest shooters ever — guys who remain useful and comfortable (to varying degrees) off the ball.

If Butler wants to run 50 pick-and-rolls per game, he should ask Kemba Walker about one-star purgatory.

Simmons thrived as a solo drive-and-kick star down the stretch last season, guiding Philly to 10 straight wins with Embiid injured. That run came mostly against bad teams. How would a Simmons-and-shooters team do in the postseason? (In that sense, the playoffs will be a fascinating test for the Milwaukee Bucks. Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are too good to label the Bucks merely “Giannis-and-shooters,” but the gap between Milwaukee’s best and next-best players is larger than that of a typical championship team.)

Fit isn’t everything. You need a baseline of top-level talent to compete for titles, even if that talent overlaps. These Sixers hinge on how willing each of Simmons, Embiid, and Butler is to spend snippets of every game as Chris Bosh.

“I constantly remind all three of them: You do not always get to win on your terms,” Brown says.

Bosh was a perennial All-Star entering his late 20s when he became the third wheel in Miami. Big men make more natural third wheels; they don’t initiate possessions, and find offense screening for wheels Nos. 1 and 2.

Butler is the most natural analog to Bosh in terms of age, but he’s not a big man. Embiid and Simmons are in their early 20s, eager to establish dominance. Maybe inexorable forces — age and time — really are working against Philly.

But what are the Sixers supposed to do? You don’t shop for superstar talent at some player grocery store. You take what you can get, when you can get it.

For now, Philly mitigates fit issues by staggering minutes. Each star logs over 30 per game even while the trio gets only about 17.

Substitution patterns have worked against Butler playing the ball-dominant role he might crave. Embiid and Redick are so good together, Brown has them tied at the hip. He prefers to keep one of Simmons and Embiid on the floor. That naturally means more of Butler-Simmons without Embiid, and less Butler-Embiid without Simmons — an alignment tailor-made for Butler-Embiid pick-and-rolls.

There is plenty of time to engineer more of that. Brown has found some extended spots for it. Meanwhile, the team is coaxing Simmons into trying midrange jumpers. The long 2 is out of fashion, but Simmons being able to hit it when guys duck under picks would introduce more organic flow. The shot clock lasts only 24 seconds; you aren’t guaranteed a better look against postseason defenses.

Simmons has run only 11.7 pick-and-rolls per 100 possessions this season, a steep drop from his average — 26.2 — last season, per Second Spectrum. That isn’t enough. At the same time, he’s posting up and working as the screener in pick-and-rolls a bit more. He and Butler have a nice two-man chemistry.

Simmons should screen more often for Butler, Redick, and even Embiid in random semi-transition situations. If he rounds out his game, Simmons will chip away at some of the fit incongruences.

But they will always be there, and the playoffs will test them. In that setting, Philly will need to stretch the three-star minutes beyond 17 per game. They need it to work.

The calls to trade Simmons for multiple shooters will not stop until the Sixers advance to at least the conference finals. I’ve even seen it suggested Philly deal Simmons to Minnesota to get Robert Covington and Dario Saric back.

Those guys are good. But it is really hard to overstate how much talent — raw, supernova talent — you need to win at the very highest level. You know who looked worse than Simmons against Boston in last season’s playoffs? Covington. Shooting is one talent, but it is not on its own a capital-T talent.

Trading Simmons for complementary shooters also amounts to betting the franchise on Embiid’s continued health. Philly isn’t ready to do that, and shouldn’t be.

If you dreamt up a Simmons-for-multiple-shooters deal, you might land upon a pairing like Gary Harris and Jamal Murray — 3-point gunners who make plays off the bounce. Even if Philly would flip Simmons for those two — and they wouldn’t — Denver isn’t risking this season’s good vibes to see what a Simmons-Nikola Jokic pairing looks like.

And remember: Every discussion about dealing Simmons for shooters and playmakers is really a discussion about Markelle Fultz. Fultz was supposed to be the shooter-playmaker to meld everything. Instead, he is a zero. The Sixers coughed up a pick — Sacramento’s 2019 first-rounder — to move up for Fultz. Keep it as trade ammo, and perhaps the Sixers could have nabbed Butler without losing both Covington and Saric.

Depth is the Sixers’ biggest current problem. There may be more depth coming. Jonah Bolden has been solid. There is still hope within the team that Zhaire Smith may return this season. The buyout market looms. Philly will have cap space again this summer.

For those eager to deal Simmons, finding a two-man package as young, talented, and plug-and-play ready as the Murray/Harris duo is almost impossible. You veer quickly into “dollar for three quarters” trades. If the Sixers ever reach the point of investigating Simmons’ trade value, they should look for one youngish blue-chipper and some minor supplementary piece.

Even if you could construct such a deal that makes sense for both teams, executing it would require each to simultaneously feel ready for a franchise-altering shakeup. Blockbuster synchronization is rare.

Some non-Anthony Davis examples that fit the template:

• Simmons to Washington for Bradley Beal. Beal would not represent enough return for Philly. He’s three years older than Simmons, two years from his third contract. Simmons is on his rookie deal. Philly would demand more, and Washington would get queasy. You run into this valuation disconnect again and again.

• Simmons to Phoenix for Devin Booker. Booker is actually younger than Simmons. Philly likely demands enough additional stuff to turn Phoenix off.

• Simmons to Portland for C.J. McCollum. McCollum is five years older than Simmons. Ask for Zach Collins and a first-rounder, and the Blazers say bye-bye unless they are ready to exit the Damian Lillard era.

• Simmons to Charlotte for Walker, Miles Bridges, and an unprotected first-round pick. Interesting, but Walker is about to sign a massive contract at age 29.

• Simmons to the Clippers for Tobias Harris, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and an unprotected first-round pick. This probably makes both teams a little uncomfortable. The Clippers love SGA. Harris likely isn’t enticing enough as a centerpiece for the Sixers.

• Simmons to Utah for Donovan Mitchell. Spicy! If Simmons and Embiid struggle with pick-and-roll chemistry, how would Simmons and Rudy Gobert manage? Philly likely demands a sweetener anyway.

• Simmons to Sacramento for … who? The Kings aren’t trading both De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield. Any other combination of Sacramento assets probably isn’t getting it done.

• Simmons to Chicago for Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and another asset. Dunn is 2½ years older than Simmons, with a blah NBA track record. Markkanen has played 86 games. Is he even old enough for election to the Bulls Leadership Council? I’m super high on him, but you couldn’t blame Philly for having questions today about his ceiling.

• Simmons to Indiana for Victor Oladipo. Oladipo is really good. He was better than Simmons last season. Simmons has a chance to be all-time good. That has to hold some appeal for an Indiana franchise that has — admirably — not drafted above No. 10 since 19-freaking-89. But the Pacers are happy where they are. Philly likely (again) demands something more.

• Simmons to Miami for Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and at least one unprotected first-round pick. Winslow’s surge has been one of the biggest under-the-radar stories of the last month. If he’s really this good, Miami’s trajectory looks different. But Philly isn’t doing this.

• Simmons for Luka Doncic. Ha. Never happening. You wouldn’t blame Philly for calling, though, right?

The Sixers have time to play this out, even after the Butler trade accelerated their timetable. Simulate the next five seasons of Sixers basketball a thousand times, and a lot of simulations would include the Sixers trading Simmons. Stars are traded toward the end of their second contracts all the time. The fit issues are real.

But that is one outcome among many. In the interim, a dozen events could shift the odds against it: another Embiid injury; a home run draft pick; nailing free agency; an out-of-nowhere trade that boosts the roster around them; injuries, trades, and free agency defections among their Eastern Conference rivals; a championship.

Yeah, that last one, too. It could be in play for this core. Right now, in early 2019, at the halfway point of Simmons’ second season playing in the NBA, two things can be true at once: The Sixers can win a championship at some point with Simmons, Embiid, and Butler; and the Sixers may come to a realization that they need to trade Simmons during his prime.

The possibility of the first thing is why you don’t rush the second.