By Harry Allison

The NBA free agent carnival starts officially tonight at 6 pm, and the Sixers have a lot on the line.

Bu they can stop the noise about Jimmy Butler leaving for the Rockets or the Heat by doing what only they can:

Offer Butler a fifth year:

The Sixers are the only team able to offer Butler that fifth year on his contract. Some believe the four-time All-Star might look to leave Philly if the franchise doesn’t immediately offer him the full five-year max deal.

Here’s how Shams Charania of the Athletic puts it:

When Jimmy Butler and the 76ers meet this weekend, one factor that will hold critical importance: The fifth year on Philadelphia’s contract offer, league sources have said. Rival teams interested in the All-Star believe that Butler and his agent, Bernie Lee, will prioritize the fifth year. Could the lack of one open Butler up to further meetings on the market? The 76ers remain fully focused on trying to re-sign both Butler and Tobias Harris.

The Sixers want to bring back Butler and Tobias Harris, but they’ll have to offer both forwards max money to accomplish that goal.

Butler has been linked to the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat if he decides to leave the Sixers. The Rockets and Heat would have to complete a sign-and-trade with Philly to acquire Butler, while the Lakers and Clippers have the cap space to sign Butler outright.

Butler averaged 18.2 points in 55 games with the Sixers during the regular season.

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