A resolution to the standoff between Jimmy Butler and the Minnesota Timberwolves was finally reached on Saturday afternoon, with the 'Wolves reportedly trading the disgruntled All-Star (along with big man Justin Patton) to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless, and a future second-round pick.
Here are three questions to consider in the aftermath of a blockbuster:
Philly obviously made a massive splash in cobbling together what they hope is a fearsome Big Three for the foreseeable future, but it's a bittersweet day for Sixers fans emotionally invested in their half-decade rebuild.
Saric struggled through the first month of the season, but he's a high-upside stretch-four, and then some - a product of the Sixers' painful "process," and one many still envisioned as a key piece of the team's bright future. Meanwhile, Covington's steady 3-and-D presence was very much the glue in a lot of successful lineups. Losing both is a tough blow, and will lead to plenty of questions surrounding Philadelphia's shooting.
The Sixers were already struggling to replace the shooting of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, whose long-range firepower proved a huge boon to the team's second-half tear last season. Philly ranked 21st in 3-point percentage entering the weekend, and has now dealt a couple of players responsible for more than a third of their 3-point makes thus far.
The good news is that Butler has shot better than 36 percent from deep over the last three seasons, and is converting at a 37.8 percent clip so far this year. The Sixers will need every ounce of that spacing, especially given their insistence on starting the anemic Markelle Fultz over J.J. Redick (though starting both now looks like their best choice). They'll also need Redick to get back to his sharpshooting self, which should be easier with another weapon on the floor to distract opposing defenses.
It's also worth wondering how Butler will jell with Philadelphia's young stars. Butler's work ethic might be second to none, but his strong personality reportedly led to tension in Chicago and Minnesota, and he's joining a team in the process of grooming two young alphas in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
That said, Butler's on-court production should be good enough to quell those concerns. The four-time All-Star has averaged 21.8 points, 5.7 rebounds, 4.6 assists, and 1.8 steals on 46-35-85 shooting over the last five seasons, racking up four All-Defensive Team selections and two All-NBA honors during that time. He's the definition of a gamer - a star who relishes a two-way challenge in the game's biggest moments. The wear and tear heavy minutes have had on Butler's body is worth considering when discussing his long-term future in Philly, but not yet.
Questions and off-court concerns aside, Philly's new Big Three has a two-way ceiling perhaps only the Warriors can touch, and it's especially terrifying defensively, where Butler, Simmons, and Embiid can hound opponents on the perimeter, in the post, and at the rim.
Through the first month of the season, the Sixers looked like a team figuring out they weren't as close to true contention as they originally believed. They changed that in one fell swoop on Saturday. - Joseph Casciaro
Was it worth it to play the waiting game? Butler wanted out in April once the Timberwolves’ first playoff appearance in 14 years ended in five forgettable games. Was it smart to wait until the eve of training camp to start taking Butler seriously? Was it prudent to drag negotiations out into November to give Butler enough time to rip the entire franchise apart? Minnesota looks like a joke from ownership down to the remaining star players.
Was it worth it to hold out for two decent - but less than spectacular - rotation pieces? Saric is the type of hard-nosed and versatile forward that Thibodeau covets, but he's off to a disastrous start (11 points per game on 36 percent shooting) and he'll now cut time away from two productive rotation pieces in Taj Gibson and Anthony Tolliver. Covington is a plug-and-play 3-and-D wing that they needed, but he’s hardly one of a kind. Even if both players pan out perfectly, the Timberwolves still aren’t a lock to make the playoffs.
Was it worth it to turn down four first-round picks from the Rockets? That deal didn’t directly make sense for Wiggins and Towns’ timeline, but why not show some patience? Why not give those two time to piece together their fractured egos, see where the franchise stands, then deal those picks for immediate help? Both players are locked in for at least the next four seasons, so what was the downside to waiting it out?
Was it worth it to empower Thibodeau throughout this entire saga? It was clear from the get-go that his focus was on the immediate season and not necessarily on the bigger picture. That's why the Timberwolves failed to land a first-round pick, or even find a taker for Gorgui Dieng's bloated contract: because Thibodeau knows he won't be around to see it through. - William Lou
Yes and no.
If we’re comparing the young core Butler is leaving to the one he’s joining, it’s obviously no contest. Embiid and Simmons have already proven that they can lead a team to fringe contention by themselves, and they are in a completely different galaxy at the defensive end of the floor. Butler should have no cause to complain about his new teammates’ compete levels; he’ll have to adapt to a locker room with more assertive personalities than those he’s grown used to the past year, but that seems like the kind of thing he’ll relish.
The on-court fit is a bit more tenuous. Butler, Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz are all players whose primary offensive value comes with the ball in their hands. As the best shooter of the bunch, Butler seems like the guy most likely to sacrifice touches in favor of a spot-up role, which may not sit with him all that well. Covington and Saric hadn’t shot the ball well to start the season, but they still represented two of Philly’s four most viable floor spacers. As good as Butler is, he won’t necessarily clear up his new team's congestion problem. He’s also not on the same timeline as the rest of the Sixers, and he may have less patience for the Fultz project.
The Sixers have a ton of talent, but so did the Wolves. Butler didn’t adapt his attitude or his playing style to Minnesota, but he'll have to if he wants to make this situation work (which, based on his reported desire to sign a long-term extension, he does). We’ll find out soon enough whether Butler’s issues with younger teammates were specific to the ones he’s played with so far. - Joe Wolfond