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  • As Jimmy Butler inherits better teammates, a more direct path to the Finals, and most likely major long-term money, we’ll begin to learn what he was really after.
By Jeremy Woo
November 10, 2018

Jimmy Butler got what he wanted. It took an extra month, four wins and nine losses, and an unprecedented amount of public politicking and passive-aggression. On Saturday, the Timberwolves finally pressed eject. Butler will join the 76ers when the trade is finalized Monday, at a relatively cut-rate price as Robert Covington and Dario Saric go the other way. There will understandably be plenty of spin about trade value and long-term implications, whether Minnesota could have handled things better and whether Philadelphia will be right to hand their new star a fat long-term deal. Expectations have shifted for both sides. But this trade, in keeping with his entire, grating exit, was all about Butler. He wanted it that way.

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We’ll remember Butler’s time in Minnesota not for anything he did on the floor, but for the public manner in which he made his escape. He ensured that everyone knew this was about his feelings, whatever they were. He followed an uncomfortably public display of machismo at preseason practice with a self-engineered media tour. He had turned down a four-year, nine-figure extension over the summer, insisted his stance wasn’t about money, but obliquely made clear he needed to feel needed. Butler returned to recast himself as the tortured hero, attempting to motivate teammates he’d already alienated while paying no mind to the actual health of the organization. Sincere has never felt like the right word.

The digital blitzkrieg of rumors and leaks and quotes as the entire thing unfolded made it hard to separate fact from fiction or pick a side. What could be fairly understood was that Butler’s relationships with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota’s younger, long-term investments, were fractured. He asked more of them. Butler was so honest about being honest that it muddled his message. Jimmy Butler had to make one thing clear—that Jimmy Butler is only about basketball. No matter what the truth was, this wasn’t going to work. At the end of the day, the situation was irreparable as he made it to be. Timberwolves brass was slow on the uptake, and what direction their season goes from here is hard to say.

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As Butler packs his bags for Philadelphia, sliding in alongside a new pair of young, gifted stars, we’ll begin to learn what he was really after. He will inherit better teammates, a more direct path to the Finals, and most likely major long-term money. The Sixers had long held designs on bringing in a third elite player to complement Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and cut a manageable deal that doesn’t gut the roster. If winning is truly Butler’s top priority, his situation has been enhanced at the surface level as Philly moves into clear contention mode. If he’s ready to shift his whole focus toward competing again, the trade could be massively rewarding for everyone.

Still, there is no avoiding the trails of discord Butler left in Minnesota, and Chicago before it. There is a certain abrasiveness to the way he goes about his business, and it has more often rankled feathers than brought results. You can’t help but feel like his newest situation could be just as combustible. There’s not a more talented trio in the East, but Butler’s confrontational history remains a piece of this puzzle. Take the subdued personalities of Towns and Wiggins and replace them with Embiid and Simmons—outspoken, brash, and fully aware of their own places as rising superstars in the league. It’s certainly possible that the 76ers are flying toward the sun. 

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Maybe Butler is the veteran scorer the Sixers have desperately needed in crunch time. There have been elephants in every room he’s exited; maybe Butler is the elephant. If his pursuit of championship basketball is as single-minded and well-intentioned as he’d have us believe, we’ll soon find out. If things don’t go according to plan, expect Butler to tell us, too.

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