The Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota is finally over, as the Wolves are sending the perpetually perturbed guard to the Sixers in exchange for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a second-round pick. Justin Patton will also go to Philly in the deal.
The Butler situation moved past untenable a long time ago. His sparring with teammates at a preseason practice was comical, and as recently as the night before the trade Butler was complaining about his usage in Minnesota. Philly has been on the hunt for a star for some time now, with the clock ticking on the Sixers’ cap flexibility to bring in another heavy hitter next to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Is Philly willing to hitch its wagon next to Butler for the long-term? There’s much more to be sorted out. For now, let’s grade the deal for each team.
I’m not sure the deal is a home run for Philly at first blush. Covington and Saric are exactly the kind of role players who can be a factor for championship teams—and the Sixers could’ve had the cap space to sign a star next summer with both of those guys still on the roster. Long-term, is Butler the best guy to attach to Simmons and Embiid? We saw how quickly he turned on Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns. Simmons and Embiid are much better players, but they are also in a different part of their careers than Butler. If Jimmy re-signs long-term, Philly’s core will essentially be set, and it doesn’t feel quite as exciting as it did a few months ago when Brett Brown was listing all the assets the organization had in its possession.
At the same time, flexibility only matters for so long. Counting on free agency is a risk, and the Sixers had to cash in sooner or later. They don’t lose any first-round picks in this deal, and they keep Markelle Fultz—whatever that’s worth. The trade should make the Sixers much better this season, and the fight between them, the Celtics, and Raptors will be incredible to watch. (And don’t forget the Bucks!) Philly will be a hellacious unit in the playoffs, and Butler is a bona fide closer who will help the offense late in close games. I’m not completely sold on his fit next to Simmons, but his two-way talent outweighs those concerns.
Minny prioritized winning now as opposed to the future with this deal, but I don’t hate that approach. Towns and Wiggins are here on big contracts, you can’t have them on your roster and be in the mindset of rebuilding/tanking. Saric and Covington can slide into the starting five nicely and they will provide steady play. But this is a wake-up call for Wiggins and Towns. The team is theirs now. For all of Jimmy’s antics, he proved he was the best player of the three. Wiggins needs to step up. Towns needs to step up. Otherwise, the Wolves will be stuck with two massively paid players on a lottery team. I still don’t see Tom Thibodeau as the long-term answer here. He can’t build a good defense or a proper roster, and someone with a more modern approach could likely get more out of the players on hand.
It’s not an awful trade for Minny, but the Wolves are still losing a top-15 player and their future is cloudy at best. This has been an embarrassing couple months for the organization, and it doesn’t appear to be headed for greatness any time soon. Good for Thibs for staying competitive for now; the Wolves will likely come to regret ever putting him in charge of the basketball operations.