Throughout his tumultuous time in Minnesota Jimmy Butler grew a reputation for being a bit of a wrecker, and a bit of a nutcase. Clashing with teammates and coaches, calling out everything and everyone in the organisation was just a daily feature in the life of Jimmy Butler. Now, with things having reached a boiling point Butler was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Dario Saric and Robert Covington. This is a rare trade where, at least in the short time, both sides come out winners.
Having been perennial whipping boys for over a decade, the Minnesota Timberwolves struck it big by trading Kevin Love for Andrew Wiggins in 2014, and drafting Karl-Anthony Towns in 2015. There, they had back-to-back #1 draft picks with a lot of talent that they could build a team around and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. They also signed former Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeu in a bid to turn them into a defensive powerhouse. In order to reach that next level, the Wolves went and traded for Jimmy Butler in 2017, sending a package featuring Zach Lavine, Kris Dunn and the #8 pick which turned into Lauri Markkanen. The Wolves seemed winners in this trade, grabbing themselves one of the best two-way players in the league, and establishing themselves as playoff contenders. Butler made an instant impact, elevating the Wolves into the top 4 of the West, before a knee injury later that season derailed their hopes and they scraped the 8th seed, before being dumped by the Houston Rockets in the 1st round of the playoffs.
For the Wolves:
This is where the problem starts, there were rumours and gossip all throughout the season that he was unhappy with his teammates, specifically Towns and Wiggins. In the two young stars, he saw players that were not putting in the work and not playing hard enough on the court, fuelling speculation of a move away from Minnesota. He was suggested to have joined LeBron in LA, whilst the Clippers were another reported suitor. Prior to the beginning of the current season, Butler had a meltdown at training camp, where he reportedly beat the starters in a scrimmage with the 3rd-string players, before screaming at the Wolves’ front office that they ‘f*****g need me’ and that they couldn’t win without him. He proceeded to virtually start a fight, again aiming his frustrations at Towns and Wiggins, all of this amidst his trade request to a team that he felt would suit his hard style of play. Butler said in interviews about the incident that his only concern is winning and doing whatever it takes, as he felt that his teammates weren’t pulling their weight on that end.
As the season began, Butler’s play never wavered as he has been his usual self, but the play of Towns and Wiggins, Towns especially, has noticeably taken a dip. Butler also became vocally critical of his coach’s excessive minute rotations, forcing Butler to play close to 40 minutes per game, which has taken its toll on the star player’s body. Now that Butler has been traded, things can reset for the Wolves. They lose a toxic player whose contract was expiring at the end of the season and gain a good package for him. It allows Towns and Wiggins to become the young focal points and building blocks of the team, and the absence of Butler may allow them to return from their shells and be able to showcase their talent. In Dario Saric they gain a young shooting big man, something they’ve sorely lacked, who can grow with the rest of the young core. With Robert Covington, they sign a quintessential ‘three-and-D’ type player, capable of spreading the floor on offence with perimeter shooting and locking up opposing wings on defence. Losing a player of Butler’s calibre is tough, but he wasn’t making anything any better, it was an unhappy marriage. Considering the circumstances, the Wolves came out of this trade happy with the outcome.
For the 76ers:
Trust the Process. Having made the semi-finals of the playoffs last year, and only being eliminated by Boston due to brain-dead errors that come with youth and inexperience, the 76ers are one of the few teams that are looking to capitalise on the void left by LeBron James’ departure from Cleveland, as the East is open season for any team that can push through. Like Minnesota, Philadelphia has two young stars in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, although both are arguably better than Towns and Wiggins and both have reputations has being hustlers, something that would suit Jimmy Butler. Trading away Saric and Covington is a big sacrifice, but they’re drastically improved their defence on the perimeter and provided the team with another scorer, and their primary scorer from the outside that can create his own shot. It would allow Simmons to concentrate solely on playmaking, Embiid on dominating the post and Butler to focus on scoring from outside. The Embiid-Butler dynamic on defence cannot be underestimated as well, as with those two they have two of the best defenders in their respective positions, allowing a presence on all ends of the court. In addition to Ben Simmons’ physical gifts on defence, Philadelphia would be a frightening team in transition if they ever get a steal or a blocked shot.
From a front office perspective, it is a risk, as Butler is out of contract at the end of the season and there is no clear indication that he will re-sign with the team. It’s a move that is very similar to the Toronto Raptor’s trade for Kawhi Leonard, in that it takes advantage of the vacuum left in the East, and forces a challenge from the Boston Celtics, the team many had pipped to be the new Kings of the East. Now the East is far more interesting. While many are calling this move a bad trade in that it’s not a ‘win now’ trade, the circumstances beg to differ. Philadelphia came close to beating Boston last season in the playoffs, in what was arguably the closest 5-game series in a long time. Looking back, Philadelphia were only a few mistakes from matching up with Cleveland in the next round, which is forgivable when factoring in the youth and inexperience of their team. Butler adds that experience, having been there and done that at a high level and adding the veteran leadership and experience needed to go far in the NBA. His personality and style of teamwork isn’t for everyone as we saw in Minnesota, but it may bring out the best in Embiid and Simmons who could have stronger personalities than Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
This is also the era of ‘big 3s’ and now Philly has a ‘big 3’. All three of them are top 15-20 players in the league, all can play defence and all can create havoc on the court. It’s the right mix of veteran experience and youthful energy, so their future is still safeguarded with their two young stars. It was a risk but a calculated one. Toronto went all-in with Kawhi Leonard, the Boston Celtics looked almost unbeatable on paper with the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and the Milwaukee Bucks continue to go from strength to strength with Giannis Antetekounmpo. Philadelphia had to play their hand and acquire a star like Butler to elevate themselves to the next level. Even if he chooses to leave at the end of the season, the 76ers still have Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, as well as cap space to go after a valuable free agent. Then again, a lot of signs point to Butler making this his new home, as Paul George was expected to go to LA before signing on with OKC, and Kawhi Leonard could easily stay with Toronto after enjoying a fantastic start with his new team. It’s a good situation for the 76ers, as much as it is a great situation for the Wolves. Both teams have benefitted from this move.