Six months after Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown told the media that the team needed another ‘high-level free agent,’ the front office did the next best thing by making a power move over the weekend via trade. They acquired Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick.
It is a move that firmly places the young Sixers in a strong upper-echelon of the Eastern Conference along with the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, and Milwaukee Bucks. They added a top-15 player in the league and now have three of the six best players in the conference and are set up to have a successful 2018-2019 season.
NBA trades usually operate under one rule: the team that comes away with the best player, especially a star, wins the trade. In this scenario, the 76ers won the deal while the Minnesota Timberwolves came away as the ‘loser.’
But this may be that rare trade where moving on from a star player works in reverse. Like the Denver Nuggets trading Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks for a farm of young, talented players and a first-round pick.
In this scenario, however, the Minnesota Timberwolves may have actually benefitted from moving on from Jimmy Butler.
The obvious reason is team chemistry. It’s well-documented that Butler was not happy with the organization, in particular, Andrew Wiggins (and Karl-Anthony Towns to an extent). He wasn’t pleased that the front office decided to give two other players max dollars instead of him.
Two players that Butler did not feel deserved the money because of their work ethic and ‘softness.’ And the discord between them was apparent on the court.
Butler did his thing, averaging 21.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 4.3 assists on 47.1% shooting and 37.8% from three. However, Wiggins and Towns were not the same players when playing with the 29-year-old.
Wiggins averaged under 15 points with Butler on the court and Towns less than 19. But with him off the floor, those numbers go up to 23 and 27.4, respectively.
The future is Wiggins and Towns, although Wiggins has been a disappointment. But both are making max money, young, and brimming with potential.
Not to mention, Derrick Rose has had a career renaissance which could change the entire outlook of the franchise if Towns continues his upward trajectory and Wiggins starts to live up to his talent.
And, instead of giving a 29-year-old Butler max money, they got out of making another significant financial commitment to someone who probably isn’t worth it. And at the same time, the franchise’s two young cornerstones’ talent will have the best chance at being optimized.
Towns is already displaying it. In his first game since the trade, the center put up 25 points and collected 21 rebounds, and on the season, he’s averaging 20.6 points and 11.6 rebounds on 41.2% from three and 90.9% from the free throw line.
Moving Butler alone feels like addition by subtraction. But the Timberwolves got two quality rotation players who appear to be great fits with the team.
Saric has the making of a stretch-four. He has been a disappointment in shooting this year, but last year, the 24-year-old shot nearly 40% from downtown. A change of scenery may be just what he needs. And playing with a team that doesn’t have two stars with big egos may help.
Robert Covington will step into the shooting guard role, and he is the three-and-D player teams covet in the modern NBA. He’s been a bit of a disappointment since signing his contract extension and isn’t the most efficient of scorers, but he’s still shooting 39% from distance.
And Jerryd Bayless is a solid veteran guard off the bench.
This move could be classified as a “win-now” trade when you consider that Minnesota rejected four first-round picks from the Houston Rockets. It adds shooting and allows them to roll out a quality five if all of them are firing on all cylinders.
Although, Timberwolves coach and President of Basketball Operations, Tom Thibodeau, does not see it in that spectrum.
“Not really. It was what was best for the organization,” Thibodeau said. “Obviously, getting good players was a priority. The pick part was important. We felt we got a good pick from Philly.
“It was what does it mean for the team? If you get two rotational players, that’s good. If you can get a pick, that allows you to do more things. I think that’s all part of it. You’re always trying to think about what the possibilities could be.”
But it is. He’s coaching for his job, and instead of acquiring draft picks and young prospects, he went for players that can contribute right now.
And the 76ers are also in the business of winning now, even with the youth on the roster. Their two best players, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, are 24 and 22 years of age respectively, and 2017’s first overall pick Markelle Fultz is only 20.
Adding Butler gives them a legitimate Big Three, which is never a bad thing. But the trade may not work out as well as they may hope.
It doesn’t vault them over the Celtics or Raptors and give them a slight advantage, if any, over the Bucks.
Philadelphia loses whatever depth they had remaining. And they were already struggling in that department.
Not to mention, they lose whatever shooting they had. Butler has been good from three this year, but throughout his career, he has been an average floor-spacer. Now the biggest question is where the perimeter shooting for Philly will come from from.
Beyond that, Butler comes with his fair share of baggage. This is his third team in 18 months, and there have been reports of his fallout with management and his team back with even the Chicago Bulls.
He has a big ego and wants to be “the man” on a team. However, Embiid and Simmons are top two in the pecking order, and that’s a tough job already.
Two young super talented players sharing the spotlight together is tough enough. But adding in a veteran All-Star who is less-talented but with a giant ego muddies everything up. A 29-year-old looking to get paid over the next five years.
The team is top-heavy with excellent talent, but Brett Brown will have his hands full managing all the personalities while also dealing with the lack of depth and shooting.
Minnesota may have a better chance at making the playoffs now with cleaning up their locker room while the 76ers add a top talent which does not shuffle up the East as much as you’d think.
Only time will tell who wins, but there’s a great chance it may be the rare trade where getting rid of the star wins out.
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