Jimmy Butler to Philly
It’s been a few days since the Sixers agreed to trade Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a second round pick to Minnesota for Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton. That trade, at its core, is really just Covington and Saric for Butler. At long last, the 76ers finally have their third star. Now that the dust has settled from Saturday’s blockbuster, I think it’s time for us to sit back and take an objective look at both the short and long term ramifications of bringing Butler to Philly for the price that they did.
What can Butler Give?
Butler undoubtedly makes the Sixers both a better and more dangerous basketball team. The 29 year old is a staple in the All-Star Game, and a four-time 2nd team all-defense member. Without a doubt, and as much as I love RoCo, he is an upgrade over Covington, who was the most important trade piece exchanged for him.
Butler is the first Sixer capable of consistently creating his own shot off the dribble in what might as well be team history. He’s a fierce competitor, known both positively and negatively for his intense but sometimes toxic competitive energy. Brett Brown lauded this exact trait as a part of why he’ll be a good fit in the City of Brotherly Love.
Brett Brown on Jimmy Butler, now that the trade is finally official: "Where do you begin? … he mirrors the spirit of Philadelphia. There's a toughness he plays with. That's who he is."
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) November 12, 2018
The former Marquette Golden Eagle is an elite on-ball defender, capable of switching 1 through 4. With Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and now Butler on the court, the Sixers will boast one of the most defensively versatile lineups in the league.
Because Butler only has this year left on his current deal, Philadelphia could simply let him walk in the offseason. They can also offer him a five year $190 million contract, one year longer and $50 million more than any other team can. In a weird way, I see the fact that he only has one year left on his deal as a positive, because if he doesn’t fit into the culture and becomes a negative locker room influence, the Sixers can let him go and try their luck with the rest of the 2019 free agency class. It’d be a shame to part ways with Covington and Saric just to let Butler scramble away to some other team, but it does in a strange way minimize risk.
Where does this trade lack?
The former Bull and Timberwolf doesn’t frequently take shots off the catch. Since Simmons and Embiid both often work out of the post, it’s crucial that the Sixers also bring in a few rotation spot-up shooters. He’s a career .34 percent three-point shooter, but that number hasn’t dipped below .35 in a season since 2015-16.
There’s a legitimate concern with Butler’s fit on this particular roster. For one, it most certainly ends the Markelle Fultz in the starting lineup experiment. Plugging Fultz in with the league’s newest big three provides nowhere near enough shooting to form a truly effective offensive attack.
How does this trade impact team chemistry?
It will be important that Butler doesn’t stunt the development of Fultz. The 6’8″ SF/SG infamously tore down former first overall pick Andrew Wiggins for not bringing enough to the table in Minnesota. The last thing Fultz needs right now is a guy in the locker room complaining that he’s not good enough. If Fultz is ever truly going to reach his potential, and that’s a pretty big if, he’ll have to regain the entirety of his collegiate confidence. A new guy in the building tell him he stinks probably wouldn’t help that cause.
Here’s Markelle Fultz answering questions about the Jimmy Butler trade. pic.twitter.com/Rgt6H3rSNP
— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) November 12, 2018
By giving up Covington and Saric, the Sixers also lose two incredibly valuable players on really good contracts. Not to mention two of the most beloved members of the locker room. Not only are those two gone, but they’re replaced with a guy known to be a bit *ahem* difficult. Also, there’s reason for concern that Butler won’t buy in to being the third guy on this team. “Jimmy G. Buckets” truly is a competitor, and he might not be willing to take a back seat to anyone, even Embiid.
Is bringing Butler to Philly enough?
The biggest concern I have with this trade is that it empties the tank and gives the Sixers a ceiling. We have the third star, but are he and the other two truly good enough to win a title? If the answer is no, then we likely have to live with the reality that this core will never net a championship banner, because we now have no assets with which to improve. If the 76ers do decide to lock Butler in long-term, then those are your three guys. There will be no way to significantly improve barring an absolute steal of a draft selection or the development of Fultz or Smith. By bringing Butler to Philly, you essentially cap this team’s top level talent at wherever it is.
Overall, is it a deal worth making?
In the end, it’s a trade you have to make. It pains me to say it, because I will always hold a place in my heart for RoCo and The Homie, but we can’t sit around and wait for a star to come to us. We needed more, and leaving it up to chance in free agency just months after striking out is too risky.
I don’t think it’s a slam dunk, but I think if Elton Brand doesn’t make the deal, you risk watching a generational center’s prime drift away with the wind without so much as a finals appearance. I’m not sure this trade puts us over the edge into title contention. Frankly, I’m leaning towards the notion that it doesn’t. However, there’s a legitimate shot that it could. If that shot is significant enough, which clearly Brand feels it is, you simply have to pull the trigger.
How did we get here?
This feels like a good time to reflect on the years that have brought us to this moment. By bringing Butler to Philly, the Philadelphia 76ers now own three of the, at-worst, top 25 players in the NBA. Think about that for a moment. Just three short seasons ago this team won ten regular season games.
Sam Hinkie’s Process netted us Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz directly through the draft. By trading for Saric on draft night in 2014 and signing Covington as an undrafted free agent, Hinkie also brought us Butler. Make no mistake about this. Everything we have now, whether you like the trade or not, doesn’t happen without the work of Hinkie. That said, everything we have now does still happen without the work of one Bryan Colangelo.
Let’s not forget Colangelo’s role in this
The reason this trade worries me is because it feels desperate, but I don’t think desperation is necessarily unwarranted. In Embiid and Simmons, the Sixers have a real shot in this league. With that shot comes added pressure to act before their window dissipates. As the Celtics continue to prove their superiority over the Sixers, the Raptors and Bucks look better by the day, and the Warriors show no signs of slowing down, Philly had to do something.
We should not have been in this spot, but through the inaction of the Colangelo family we were stuck in a situation that was just becoming more dire as time went by. Should the Sixers have stayed put and whiffed in 2019 free agency, there would have been very little future hope.
If nothing else, the trade that brought Butler to Philly proves that every move matters. I doubt anyone, when they first signed him, thought Covington would ever become the key piece in a trade that brings Jimmy Butler to Philly. But he did. Every move you make and pick you take can and will have significant ramifications on the future. Colangelo did legitimately nothing to help the 76ers’ longterm title contention. Because of his incompetence, we were forced to pull the trigger on a trade that brings in a disgruntled star in exchange for two of our last and most valuable trade assets.
Regardless, here we are…
Despite all the wasted picks and all the poor trades of the Colangelo era, here the Sixers stand. Three stars in their hands, a question mark in Fultz, a promising young rookie in Landry Shamet, and a versatile (injured) wing in Zhaire Smith. It’s been a rollercoaster to get here, but now I’d like to truly Welcome you to the Moment.
I’m not sure this was the right move. I’m not sure that bringing Butler to Philly pushes the 76ers over the edge, but it sure as hell could.
So here we go. No more excuses. No more waiting for next year. It’s officially time to win.
Go take the East.
All stats courtesy of basketball reference
Featured photo courtesy of The Wealth Record via Flickr
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