So big news in the NBA yesterday, All Star Jimmy Butler was finally traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves, but to most people’s shock it wasn’t to the Miami Heat, Houston Rockets or LA Clippers… it was the Philadelphia 76ers who took a huge gamble that Jimmy Butler will re-sign there this summer when he is an unrestricted free agent.
So to summarize the
Minnesota Timberwolves get:
24 years old
2 years 6 million contract remaining
27 years old
4 years 47 million contract remaining
30 years old
1 year 8.5 million contract remaining
2022 Second Round Draft Pick
Philadelphia 76ers get:
Shooting Guard / Small Forward
29 years old
1 year 19 million plus 1 year player option which Butler is not expected to exercise making him an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2019.
21 years old
1 year 2.67 million contract remaining
Minnesota Timberwolves Trade Grade: B
Minnesota obviously wanted to continue competing for a playoff spot this year which is why they rejected the Rockets offer of 1st round draft picks to accept this deal.
On the surface it may look like the Wolves did not get any All Stars and no 1st round draft picks so it must be a bad trade. But remember when Paul George got traded for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, and also when Jimmy Butler himself was traded last year for Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen. I am sure if you were to ask the Pacers and the Bulls now, they would both be very happy with the result. Oladipo immediately turned into an All Star and top 20 player and Sabonis looks extremely talented with a bright future. Meanwhile for the Bulls Zach Lavine is showing he is not just an elite dunker but an elite scorer as well. Dunn and especially Lauri Markannen looked very impressive before they got injured and Markannen could easily evolve into a star in his own right. Of course you may argue that Lavine, Markannen and especially Oladipo are much better players then Saric and Covington, but that is only in hindsight.
Dario Saric is actually very similar to Lauri Markannen and he may not have had a great start to this season, but make no mistake this guy can play. And he is not your stereotypical European player either. He is extremely tough, competitive and he never shies away from the moment and will demand the ball and take and make big shots in big games.
Saric was a huge player for the Sixers in the playoffs last year averaging a big 17 points and 7 rebounds a game and essentially averaging over 17 points a game since December 2017 even though Philly had many talented scorers including Embiid Simmons and Redick to share the points with. He was Philly’s best player and scored 25 and 27 points in the last 2 games against the Celtics when the Sixers were facing elimination. He also averaged 21 points a game in the first 3 games of the Miami Series when Embiid was coming back from injury and the 76ers really needed him. He is only 24 years old and fits right with the timeline of Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins so this is an excellent acquisition for the Timberwolves.
Robert Covington on the other hand did not perform great in the playoffs last year but he was ranked number 8 in the WHOLE NBA and NUMBER 1 amongst all small forwards in RPM (Real Plus Minus) last year (Lebron James was 2nd and Kevin Durant was ranked 4th!) . This obviously means his team played a lot better with him on the floor and he also had by far and away the best defensive RPM of any small forward last year.
Covington consistently guarded the opposing teams best scorer and he is known for his deflections, steals and blocks earning All NBA First Team Defense Honours last season (Ahead of Jimmy Butler who was 2nd Team All Defense). Considering almost every other player in the top 20 of RPM last year were all stars, it speaks volumes to his on court impact. He also makes 2.5 Threes a game and when you add this to Dario Saric’s 2 Three’s per game, that is 4.5 Three’s added for Minnesota with only Jimmy Butler’s 1.2 Three’s per game going the other way. Minnesota desperately needs more outside shooting as they were dead last in 3 pointers made last year at just 8 per game. With Towns, Wiggins and even Derrick Rose now all contributing a couple 3’s a game, expect Minnesota to be among the league leaders in 3 point shooting for the rest of the season.
Another great part of this deal for Minnesota is that Robert Covington is locked in for 4 years with a very reasonable 11-12 million per year contract and Dario Saric is only on the books for 3 million a year for the next 2 seasons. Minnesota saved big money by not resigning Jimmy Butler to a monster 190 million contract. And with the recent max contracts to Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, it would have meant the Wolves would have no flexibility to add to the core 3 players which have proven to be no better than an 8th seed in the West.
Jimmy Butler is also approaching his Thirties and with his tough style of play there is always an injury risk with him (as evidenced by the fact he has only played more than 70 games twice in 7 years). Now the Wolves don’t have to worry about any of that and they have 2 players to build around that actually want to be there and they will have more financial flexibility to improve the team in the future.
The other huge aspect of this trade is the mental aspect for the Minnesota’s two young stars. Jimmy Butler was severely affecting the whole team spirit and if he had stayed any longer there would be no hope to salvage the season and challenge for the playoffs. Both Towns and Wiggins look like completely different players when Jimmy is playing or not. Considering Butler was suppose to lead, mentor, encourage and inspire these young players to play better, and for all of his talk he clearly failed to do that. Wiggins looked like a deer in the headlights, hesitant and completely regressing as a player since Butler joined the team. Towns early this season looked like a shell of the player he was before Jimmy Butler arrived and it was clearly taking a toll on him mentally.
Check out Karl Antony Towns Stats in the March last year when Jimmy Butler was injured:
51% 3 Point
In the 3 games Butler missed this year for rest, Towns scored 31, 28 and 23 points. Outside of that Towns only scored more than 20 points in just 2 out of 10 games that Butler played in. He looked lost on the court floating around the 3 point line and disappearing for big parts of the game. Clearly he is a different player without Butler on the team and now Minnesota gets to unleash the Karl Anthony Towns that GM’s voted just one year ago 'The number one player to build an NBA team around'.
So the Timberwolves new starting 5 should slide Wiggins to his more natural position at the 2, Covington at the 3 to guard all the top wings in the West and Saric at the 4 moving Taj Gibson back to the bench. Now the Wolves have all 5 players in the starting lineup who can take and make multiple 3s a game which is a recipe for success in the modern day NBA. With Towns, Saric and Gibson now the Wolves have 3 reliable bigs to rotate as they usually got outscored a lot last season when the backups played. Add in Derrick Rose’s resurgence as a number 3 option and these Timberwolves could easily be a better team after the trade.
Minnesota Timberwolves New Projected Starting 5
Karl Anthony Towns
6th / 7th man
So I have given a final grade of B+ which is only not an A because they failed to get a 1st round pick but I think they did the right deal to try and compete for the playoffs in the West this season.
B+ if Jimmy Butler re-signs
F if Jimmy Butler leaves next summer
It may be a cop out to make a grade based on a ‘what if’ situation, but it is really unclear at the moment what Jimmy Butler’s intentions are. Of course if he does mesh well with the 76ers two young stars and he does indeed re-sign next summer then you will have 3 All Stars in a star driven league and you would have to grade this trade as a success. All 3 players are extremely competitive, unselfish and play both sides of the ball which is what you need to succeed.
I completely understand why Philly made this trade. Elite 2 way wing players are in extreme demand in the NBA and Philly already missed out on Paul George and Lebron, failed to pick Tatum over Fultz (big mistake losing a future high pick as well) and are unlikely to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant next summer. The Greek Freak is not going anywhere and Klay Thompson looks like a long shot too, so Jimmy Butler offered the last chance to add a really elite two way wing player to complement their star Point Guard and Centre.
Both Toronto and Milwaukee have an elite forward and have leapfrogged Philly in the East’s pecking order at the start of this season. Philly looked a bit stuck in the mud and understandably panicked at the prospect of falling too far behind the top 3 teams. Jimmy Butler is exactly the type of veteran leader that can positively influence these young players and give them a go-to outside scorer in the clutch (although he seemed to fail to positively influence the young stars in Minnesota).
Nevertheless Philadelphia is taking a HUGE gamble by giving up two really good young players on great contracts for a player that is a free agent this summer and had never expressed any interest in signing with the Sixers. He seemed clear that his only choices for a long term contract was New York, LA and maybe the Miami Heat. In Philly, Embiid and Simmons are clearly the franchise cornerstones so Jimmy is coming in as a third wheel and will he accept that?
I can only imagine the Sixers have had extensive conversations with Jimmy Butler and are confident (and willing) to sign a soon to be 30 year old, very physical player to a massive 190 million max contract. But without assurances from Jimmy’s camp that he will re-sign with them, this trade is extremely reckless. As I don’t think Butler pushes them over the edge this year and he does not make them favourites in the East over Boston and Toronto, let alone beating the Warriors for the title. If the trade would have made them favourites to reach the NBA Finals then I would feel much better about this trade for Philly.
A major reason why I don’t think Jimmy Butler makes them better than Boston or Toronto is 3 point shooting, or the lack thereof. As mentioned earlier, they are giving up almost 5 Three’s a game losing Saric and Covington and Jimmy Butler is certainly not a spot up 3 point shooter. If they had kept at least one of either Ersan Ilyasova or Marco Belinelli who were both key bench players for them last year, then they would be much better equipped to deal with the losses of Covington and Saric.
But with Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz lack of shooting this could be a big problem for the Sixers. An immediate solution which absolutely has to happen is J.J Redick moving back into the starting lineup. It is clear as day to everyone that The Sixers and Simmons in particular play much better when Redick is starting beside him. Anyway Ben Simmons is big enough to play Power Forward on D so the Sixers could theoretically still keep Markelle Fultz in the lineup as long as they also start Redick alongside Butler and Embiid.
T.J McConnell is another underrated player that absolutely needs to play more and probably will considering the Sixers lost two heavy rotation guys and only got back one. It is painfully obvious that whenever T.J McConnell plays good things happen as shown in the one opportunity he got against Memphis after the trade was announced. My finishing 5 would be T.J McConnell, Redick, Butler, Simmons and Embiid. Wilson Chandler is also a candidate to get many more minutes and they need him to play as a stretch 4 to try and give them what Dario did. Dario Saric had built up great chemistry with Ben Simmons and now Simmons has lost 4 out of 5 of the main spot up shooters from last year (Bellineli, Ilyasova, Covington and Saric) with Redick being the lone remaining one.
One more final point is will Jimmy Butler be a positive influence in the locker room? Surely a vet who plays hard every game and knows how to win should be beneficial for a young team. But he clearly did not influence the Timberwolves in a positive way and he was known to cause some trouble in the Bulls locker room as well. These Sixers all get a long with each other and have always had good team camaraderie so hopefully Jimmy Butler will mesh with the team’s two young stars better then he did in the Twin Cities.
Philadelphia 76ers Projected Starting 5:
So in conclusion this trade looks like a very good deal for the Timberwolves as long as Dario Saric continues to improve and play like a borderline All Star that he is capable of doing. For the Sixers we will know this summer whether it will be a great deal or not. They lost a lot of shooting and will have to significantly change the way they play. But at the end of the day elite All Star players like Jimmy Butler are not at all easy to get and if you have the chance to have 3 top 20 players (which only the Warriors can boast) then you can’t blame them for taking the gamble.
Trade Winner: Minnesota or Tied if Butler re-signs next summer
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