Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN have reported that the Minnesota Timberwolves have traded Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers, ending over a month of speculation regarding where the star would end up in this untenable situation. In addition to Butler, the Wolves are sending Justin Patton, while the Sixers are sending Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and a second round draft pick to Minnesota.
In Butler, the Philly gains a third star to go with the young and extremely talented Joel Embiid and last season’s Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, and this should be the kind of move that would make me nervous as a Celtics fan, but this it was the Timberwolves were thinking when they traded for Butler in the summer of 2017. Butler was supposed to be the veteran leader to guide Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to bigger things. “That went well.” This writer said sarcastically.
These 76ers have already done more winning than the Timberwolves team Butler is leaving, having reached the second round in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, but Butler is joining yet another extremely young, supremely talented team. He got frustrated with Towns and Wiggins for not being as obsessively driven as he is despite being former top picks in the draft, so why would he not react the same way to Embiid and Simmons? Embiid is really good, but is a better Twitter trash talker than player, and has significant injuries in his history. Simmons could be one of the best players in the NBA, but his shooting is still a work in progress, and they are not immune to the growing pains of a young team, the kinds of things that made Butler annoyed in Minnesota.
In addition to Embiid and Simmons, there is also Markelle Fultz. Fultz was projected to be the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but after working out for the Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge decided to trade down with Philadelphia, allowing the 76ers to take Fultz. But the Celtics were perfectly happy with Jayson Tatum at #3, and so far, Tatum has been the better NBA player. Fultz missed a bunch of time last season with a shoulder injury, and his shot has not been the same since.
Minnesota needed to deal Butler, and Saric and Covington have to be an addition considering just how toxic things got between Butler and the team. And while on paper this is a good move for Philadelphia, Butler could be great for them, or he could be the same kind of destructive presence that he was for the Wolves. The Sixers had a good thing going, but Butler is now entering the same kind of situation he just left.
Butler wants to win now. The Sixers want to win now, and even in a LeBron-less Eastern Conference, new GM Elton Brand needed to add someone else to the mix to give them a chance to pass the Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and suddenly dominant Milwaukee Bucks. Butler gives them a chance, but his recent behavior, which I wrote about a couple weeks ago does him no favors. This is no sure thing, but it certainly makes things interesting.