It took 52 days, one explosive practice, an excessive number of trade rumors, one broken deal, and an inordinate amount of “precautionary rest,” but Jimmy Butler finally got his wish. The Minnesota Timberwolves agreed to trade Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, The Athletic and others reported. In exchange for Butler (and former first-round pick Justin Patton), Philly is sending Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick to Minny. Here are the big winners and losers from the fallout, starting with our favorite expletive-dropping superstar:
Winner: Jimmy Butler
Justin Verrier: Butler just went to Hardscrabble Heaven. One of the most cantankerous characters in all of sports has not only just successfully forced his way off one of the most fraught organizations in all of sports, but he’s heading to one of the few NBA teams with a real shot to win the title in the next five years, catering to a market that embraces shit-talkers with open arms. Whether another team built around recent top-three picks will respond to Jimmy’s unique brand of encouragement better than that last one remains to be seen, but there are few better spots for the 29-year-old All-Star to have landed—especially with the payday that he’s been clamoring for all along reportedly forthcoming. The over/under on when Butler will show up in his first Meek Mill Instagram Story is three days.
Winner: Karl-Anthony Towns’s Well-Being
Paolo Uggetti: At long last, Towns will be without Butler’s toxic supervision. I mean, think about that for a second. Towns is coached by Tom Freakin’ Thibodeau—the hardest grinder of them all—and yet it was Butler who was clearly the nightmare Towns saw in his sleep. Butler, not Thibs, was the one who reportedly berated Towns during that infamous October practice.
Towns can breathe a sigh of relief. To give you an idea of what kind of difference this trade could make to the 22-year-old All-Star: In the games that Butler hasn’t played this season, Towns averaged 27.3 points; with Butler next to him this season, Towns averaged 17.7 points. With Butler gone, Towns could also solidify himself as the team’s franchise player and focus more on what matters: getting better. Towns may have just signed a supermax, but his play has been inconsistent and, oftentimes, lethargic. He’s gone from being considered a unicorn to something more like a scared colt. Towns has the skills to be a star, and there’s no reason he can’t become one. Without Butler, there’s no excuse not to be.
Loser: The Possibility of 3-Point Shooting in Philly
Uggetti: The Sixers, who start two guards who can’t shoot, just traded away one of their best 3-point shooters in Covington. Saric is shooting an abysmal 30 percent from 3 so far this season, but he sunk 39 percent last season. For now—pending any additional moves, considering we’re only 13 games into the season—the Sixers just got markedly worse at a part of the game that they already struggled with (bottom 10 in 3-point percentage so far this season.)
Butler is averaging a career-high 4.5 3s a game this season, and he is making 37.8 percent of them. That’ll help, but he’s more of a ball magnet and playmaker than a shooting specialist. JJ Redick, despite his 34.2 percent mark on the season, could move back to the starting lineup. But in this 3-point-happy league, on a roster where spacing is integral to Joel Embiid’s success, the Sixers need more firepower on the perimeter. What’s Kyle Korver up to these days?
Winner: Tom Thibodeau’s Goal of Staying Competitive at All Costs
Verrier: It may have cost Thibs his best player, but grinding out 45 wins is what he dreams about on vacation.
Loser: Markelle Fultz
Verrier: Butler has officially become the third member of the Process’s Big Three. So what does that mean for the player originally earmarked for the position? For as much progress as Fultz has made to become a regular in the rotation this season, the sobering truth is that the vision the Sixers had when they traded up in the 2017 draft was never going to become reality. This photo, taken during Fultz’s predraft workout in Philly the day the trade with the Celtics was brokered, is now good for only Wolverine meme fodder:
Dust in the wind. All we are is dust in the wind. pic.twitter.com/4Qad77WUsQ— Justin Verrier (@JustinVerrier) November 10, 2018
But it doesn’t make much sense to punt completely on Fultz’s reconstruction project; the team has come too far to sell this low. Which means the 20-year-old’s path ahead will be infinitely more difficult. For one, a bottom-third team in 3-point percentage just lost its only two long-range threats in the starting lineup; jiggering lineups to fit in Fultz, who has taken 13 3s this season (and made four) and is shooting under 40 percent from the floor, will be even dicier. And a player widely presumed to have had a case of the yips will have to somehow stay out of the doghouse with Butler, one of the most demanding teammates in the league. Pray for Markelle.
Loser: The Miami Heat
Verrier: The Heat haven’t been very good this season; they’re 5-6 overall, with a net rating (plus-0.7) right at the center of the league’s standings. And they will likely stay that way, now that their trade-in-case-of-emergency plan is off the table. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Saturday that the Heat pulling Josh Richardson off the table led the Wolves in Philly’s direction. And, to be fair to Miami, Richardson has been impressive in his fourth NBA season: Freed up some by the league’s emphasis on weeding out off-ball holding, the 25-year-old second-round pick is averaging a career-high 20.5 points and drilling 3-pointers at volume like an All-Star. The extension Richardson signed a year ago (four years, $42 million) seems like one of the few bargains on the Heat’s bloated books. But it’s hard envisioning him driving Miami any deeper than it went last season (which, ironically, was a first-round loss to the Sixers), which means the team’s in for yet another season of hand-wringing over all the luxury tax they’re paying because of hefty deals for league-average players and hoping that Hassan Whiteside will play nice (he has so far!). Luckily, the Heat can still put Dwyane Wade on a poster for a few more months.
Loser: Teams Looking to the 2019 Free-Agency Class
Uggetti: Kyrie Irving said before the season that he plans to stay in Boston for a while. Klay Thompson more or less said he’ll stick around in the Bay Area. Butler is expected to sign a long-term deal in Philadelphia following this season. With the caveat that nothing is set until pen is put to paper, the 2019 free-agency class is losing a bit of its luster—and it’s only November. Teams (*cough* Knicks, Clippers, Lakers *cough*) are looking longingly at next summer as a time to find a foundational player. The problem is that a lot of prime targets made moves before teams could court them. Irving, Butler, and Kawhi Leonard all exerted pre-agency and have ended up in suitable places where they can contend, stay long-term, and not even test the free-agent waters. So, who might be available? Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, Al Horford, and maybe Leonard? That’s a solid class, but not a great one.