What Jimmy Butler-to-76ers trade means for Raptors, East

Michael Grange and Eric Smith draw comparisons in the Sixers acquiring Jimmy Butler to Toronto getting Kawhi Leonard, both as overall impact and similarities in player.

The Jimmy Butler saga has finally reached its natural conclusion with reports the disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves superstar has been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.

It ends one of the more bizarre stand-offs between a player and management that we’ve seen in years, a drama that has played out in public since prior to training camp in September and billowed behind the scenes for far longer.

The reported deal will send Butler and centre prospect Justin Patton to the Sixers in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jarryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick.

There’s a ton of fallout from the trade, but it especially shakes up the Eastern Conference where, after just 69 games away, Jimmy Butler returns.


Here’s what the Butler deal means for…

The 76ers
Philadelphia is off to an 8-5 start and currently sits third in the East. Yet, on paper, they have a negative net rating and, in person, simply haven’t looked the part of a contender despite carrying that label into the season.

Looking for a proven standout veteran on the wing to pair with its young rising stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, Philadelphia had been linked to Butler in past rumours. And it’s not hard to see why.

Embiid is playing out of his mind so far this season, and Simmons flirts with a triple-double whenever he’s on the floor. But at 24 and 22 years old, respectively, and with only 200 games of experience combined, Butler could be the missing piece that helps lift Philadelphia to another level and seriously expedites the process.

There are still questions and concerns. The Sixers’ biggest weakness is reliable shooting, and a glance at their roster didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Just ask Embiid:

This trade doesn’t fix the problem – Covington was one of Philadelphia’s lone shot-makers and Saric had shown the ability in the past. And as long the Sixers continued to play both Simmons and Markelle Fultz on the floor together, the team’s ceiling this season appeared limited.

But Butler changes that.

Although he’s merely a capable — if clutch — three-point shooter, he leaves his mark on the game in so many other ways both offensively and defensively. He’s a legitimate all-star and the best player in the deal by miles. Philadelphia just got better and re-entered the conversation as a team with a chance to win it all in the East.

The Timberwolves
The longer the drama dragged on the lesser Minnesota’s leverage got, so you knew not to expect anything close to fair value once the team finally pulled the trigger on a deal.

And that’s certainly the case here. Minnesota gets a pair of serviceable players in Covington and Saric. Covington is an above-average defender and is shooting 39 per cent from beyond the arc. He shores up the Timberwolves on the wing and should alleviate Andrew Wiggins’ workload — but he may also steal minutes and impede the development of promising rookie Josh Okogie.

Saric gets to hit refresh on what’s been a forgettable season. It wasn’t long ago he was a rookie-of-the-year candidate and key part of the Sixers rebuild, but his shooting numbers have plummeted in his third year and Minnesota will need him to regain form to recoup the deal.

Jimmy Butler
Say what you will about his tactics, but Butler landed in as good a position as he could have hoped. He is suiting up for a legitimate contender, and playing meaningful games in which he’ll be relied upon heavily amid a competitive group with like-minded goals.

Ironically, Butler steps into an opportunity similar to when he first arrived in Minnesota as the go-to leader on a rising potential powerhouse — only the Sixers’ existing duo of Simmons and Embiid have a higher ceiling than Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.

In Philadelphia, Butler is now alongside two all-stars who are openly chasing a championship and welcome the pressures of playing on a big stage. That may be the biggest difference, and could make for a much smoother experience for Butler this time around.

“I put so much into this game and I only play to win… And at times I get lost in how everybody is not built the way that I’m built,” Butler reportedly told the Chicago Sun-Times last season. “… Sometimes I just look around, and I don’t understand how or why you all don’t love to get better the way that I do.”

It’s expected that Butler will look to stick around with the Sixers after he becomes a free agent next summer, and given their nucleus and opportunity to contend for a title, it’s not hard to understand why.

Tom Thibodeau
Butler got plenty of flack for how he went about orchestrating his Timberwolves exit, but arguably nobody’s reputation took a bigger hit through all of this than Thibodeau. Minnesota’s coach and president of basketball operations reportedly knew of Butler’s trade demands as early as June — the writing was on the wall when Butler turned down a lucrative contract extension — but appeared too stubborn to act on them, or overly self-confident in his abilities to get his player to eventually fall back in line.

It’s hard to imagine he retained respect in the locker room and it’ll be interesting to see how the Timberwolves respond as the season progresses.

The Raptors
Any long-time follower is familiar with Butler, who has been maybe the premier Raptor-killer over the past half-decade or so, and a central figure in the Chicago Bulls’ one-time 11-game win streak over Toronto.

Butler has a higher career scoring average against the Raptors than any other team in the East, and the prospect of going up against Butler and a dangerous, if top-heavy, Sixers rotation in the spring is potentially daunting.

The Raptors have been playing unbelievably to start the season, and are only showing signs of improving down the stretch. It’s rightfully caused a ton of optimism in Toronto, where the list of bona fide competitors in the East is relatively short.

Before Saturday, the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics were the only two teams that seemed to have a shot of slowing the Raptors. Now it’s hard not to include the 76ers in that group.

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