Farewell, Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Hello, Jimmy Butler.
On Saturday, the Philadelphia 76ers struck a deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves for the disgruntled swingman, sending away Covington, Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick for Butler and Justin Patton.
At face value, the deal looks like a win for both sides. The 76ers add some much needed star power to their underwhelming 2018 roster, while the Wolves gain a defensive stalwart in Covington. In addition, Saric is a serviceable starter who still has tremendous upside despite a cold start to the year.
Philadelphia also gained back some lost height by acquiring the 7-foot Patton, a 2017 first-round pick.
Dumping Bayless and a second-rounder three years in advance is only a nominal loss for the Sixers. What they gain is a true superstar player in the prime of his career seeking his fifth consecutive All-Star game selection. Butler may be exactly what the struggling 76ers need – an elite two-way player with veteran leadership and playoff experience.
Playoff experience will be invaluable to a team whose youth was obvious in last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals. After whiffing in free agency (and possibly the 2017 draft) the Sixers needed to make some kind of move in order to keep pace with the improved Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks.
Still, this move feels more like desperation than long-term strategy, the latter being something that has become synonymous with Philadelphia’s team-building methods. While they may have gained a superstar, the 76ers also sent away two of their most valuable players outside of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
Is Butler an upgrade over Covington or Saric individually? Absolutely. Is he better than each of them combined? Probably not.
That’s not selling Butler short either. A member of the 2016 Olympic team in Rio, Butler is solidly a top-fifteen player in the NBA today.
It’s hard to believe that he’s still not even the best player on the team. That distinction goes to Embiid, while Simmons isn’t too far behind. When you think about it like that, the 76ers are a much scarier team to contend with.
Adding Butler unequivocally makes the 76ers a better team. What remains unclear is whether or not it makes them a better team than the best teams in the East. Part of what made the Sixers so dangerous down the stretch last year was dead-eye shooting from J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli. With Belinelli gone, the Sixers sorely lack threats from the perimeter. Butler is a capable shooter, but hardly Steph Curry.
That leaves the 76ers with a still-unaddressed problem that will almost certainly haunt them later if they don’t fix it by the All-Star break.
Moves still need to be made. Either that, or Simmons and Markelle Fultz need to develop learn how to shoot a basketball.
Above all else, expect the 76ers to improve – just not excessively.