The saga that has engulfed the Minnesota Timberwolves, their head coach/president Tom Thibodeau, and disgruntled star Jimmy Butler has come to a merciful end.
Within the last few hours The Wolves have agreed to trade Butler and center Justin Patton to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for guard Robert Covington, forward Dario Saric, guard Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second round pick. The trade was first reported by ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski and The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
This puts to rest one of the strangest games of chicken between a player and a front office that the NBA has ever seen. Depending of what timetable one will believe Butler has let Thibodeau know about wanting a trade from Minnesota either four days after the team was eliminated from the 2018 NBA playoffs or the weekend before training camp was set to begin. Since then the saga has taken many turns including Butler coordinating a hostile preseason practice where he berated the entire Wolves organization followed up by an interview with ESPN’s Rachel Nichols and Thibodeau sabotaging a Butler trade to the Miami Heat as it was about to be completed.
The Heat and the Houston Rockets until today were considered the most aggressive suitors for Butler. The Rockets went as far offering four first round picks but also trying to add guard Brandon Knight and forward Marquese Chriss to the deal. In the aborted Miami deal the Heat were reportedly set to include guard Josh Richardson who the Wolves were high on.
The Sixers in the meantime were considered a dark horse for Butler throughout the saga.
It can be debated whether the Houston package was more valuable that the Philadelphia deal but a few key factors tilted the scales in Philadelphia’s favor.
While the four first round picks look enticing at first sight, the Rockets are positioned to be a perennial playoff team with championship potential. Add to that the fact that the team core of guards Chris Paul and James Harden are signed to long term deals and the picks, at least the first two, would likely be placed near the end on the first round. Minnesota also asked for guard Eric Gordon and forward P.J. Tucker, both integral parts of Houston’s team, to be included in the deal but that was a price too steep even for the Rockets.
For Miami, who walked away after the Thibodeau sabotage, this could be a blessing in disguise.
Butler is a player that looks ready made for the Heat culture that has been established by team president Pat Riley. However landing him would have required to give up young pieces like Richardson, guard/forward Justise Winslow, and forward/center Bam Adebayo. That would not have stopped Riley in previous years but with retirement on the horizon and the regime set to take over the Heat once he does step down preferring to build on young players he likely felt a responsibility to keep that young core intact. Miami has also shown that they have a solid player development program where diamonds in the rough been found such as guard Tyler Johnson, center Hassan Whiteside, and guard Rodney McGruder now being the latest example.
Miami also has other opportunities to land star disgruntled players with the seemingly imploding Washington Wizards becoming fertile ground for such a deal.
As for Butler this will an interesting change of scenery. He is going from a team where he had issues with the young core of center Karl-Anthony Towns and forward Andrew Wiggins to a Philadelphia team that has an even younger core of center Joel Embiid and guard Ben Simmons. Along with them there is second year guard Markelle Fultz who looks to have still not fully recovered from an injury that drastically altered his shot. Losing Covington and Saric also depletes the Sixers perimeter shooting depth making the team even more reliant on Fultz and veteran guard JJ Redick to make up that gap.
While the personalities of Embiid and Simmons look to be much different than that of Towns and Wiggins, the presence of Fultz could present a similar time bomb to the one the Wolves have experienced.
But with LeBron James no longer in the Eastern Conference leaving it wide open with teams like the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors positioning themselves to be the top team the Sixers could not afford to be left behind in this race.
It’s a risk Philadelphia is willing to take and in also choosing to sign Butler to a super max contract next summer it’s a long term risk.
Note: This article also appears on The Spectator Magazine