Transactions: The Jimmy Butler Trade

Timberwolves trade Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton to 76ers for Robert Covington, Dario Saris, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2020 second-round pick

The craptastic stare down between Minnesota and Butler is finally over and it leaves all sorts of lingering questions for us to consider.  Let’s run down the issues….

-Was this trade good for Minnesota?

It was clear that Butler had to go but to answer this question we’d have to be privy to the market for Butler.  If the rumors were true that Houston was offering four first-round picks, then the Philly trade is idiotic.  Saric is solid young player who is still rookie contract-controlled for another couple years but there is no indication he will breakout.  Covington is a perfectly good three-and-D player locked into a moderate contract (about $39 million for the following three seasons), which is not an overpay but certainly not and an underpay or a riskless contract for a specialist approaching 30.

Getting back to the Houston offer, the rumors further swirled that the Wolves refused the trade because they didn’t want to help a conference rival.  This does not compute as particularly smart logic.  The Wolves best bet to beat rivals is by getting the most talent.  With limited exceptions (ie two close rivals in the standings), the destination of a traded player is not really relevant to the Wolves going forward.  Houston is not among Minnesota’s close rivals at this time and the Wolves should have only been concerned with the best return.

-If this really was the best non-Houston option, should the Wolves have waited?

That’s a difficult question.  As the season progressed, some teams certainly would have been more desperate for Butler’s services and the market probably would have heated up.  That is counterbalanced against Butler’s behavior, which seemed to be ruining the Wolves’ locker room between his outbursts and his strategic “rest” days.  Butler understood that the only way to avoid the wait-and-see scenario noted above was to make Minny so miserable that they couldn’t afford to do anything but trade him ASAP.

Still, if the best they had on the table for Butler was a solid guard and a role player, Minnesota was probably better off sending Butler home to “rehab” his “injury” than trade him now.  Sending Butler home would prevent him from hurting the team on daily basis and put pressure on Butler to behave in case another team became wary that he was too much of a problem child to give a huge contract.

If the Wolves were really that worried about Butler making them look bad, then they should have traded him before the season to avoid the inevitable circus that was coming.  Instead, they chose the worst of both worlds…keeping him around and trading for pennies on the dollar.

-Does Butler deserve some blame for his behavior?

Using leverage is a tricky thing.   While all contracts have an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, Butler played the margins of good faith with his injury complaints.  That gray area exists in all negotiations and, depending on the individuals involved, some are willing to push the margins farther than others.  Butler is somewhat stained for throwing a tantrum because Minny wouldn’t give him the supermax deal he wanted but he’s going to get the deal he wants from Philly anyway.

-How good are the Wolves going forward?

Despite the weird atmosphere, Butler’s numbers this season aren’t appreciably lower than what he did for Minny last year.  Minnesota is 4-9 and the problems have been defensive (they are currently 29th, which is very un-Thobideau-like).   The main culprits on defense, according to DPM, are the point guards (Derrick Rose, in particular, is clocking a terrible -3.2 DPM) and Andrew Wiggins.  Short term, Saric and Covington can improve that problem a bit with their better defense but the Wolves will still need someone to replace Butler’s points.  The Wolves are better than a 4-9 team even if they got nothing for Butler so they should improve but the ceiling is still low playoff slot.  To dump Butler for such a modest improvement doesn’t make sense to me.

-How good are the 76ers going forward?

Philly has been pretty meh so far this year (8-5 but they have been outscored as a team for the season).  They need points and shooters badly (21st in offense, 21st in 3-point %).  Butler should help immediately (he replaces Saric who is shooting a gross 21-70, .300% from three) and may put them in the conversation for the top of the East with Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee.   Butler’s benefits are somewhat offset by losing Covington, who has been Philly’s best three shooter so far.  Even so, Butler can create shots and hit jumpers in a manner that Covington cannot.  This ability  should give more space for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and lock them in as a top four seed this year.

That being said, a supermax deal to Butler is likely to not return well.  Butler is 29 and has had injury issues (and not just his current “injuries”).  He’s the type of player (an athletic guard) who we can expect to decline from star to decent player quickly in his early 30s.  Philly, however, really needs another star player and the only reason not to trade for Butler would be if the team could find a better star with that same salary slot.  It is unlikely that the 76ers could get a star for less talent than they gave up here, so I would definitely have pulled the trigger on this trade too and accepted the risk that the supermax won’t end well.

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