The worst kept secret in basketball – that Jimmy Butler wanted out of Minnesota and the Tom Thibodeau stranglehold – reached a tipping point on Saturday when the Timberwolves finally dealt the four-time All-Star to the Philadelphia 76ers. In exchange, Minnesota will receive Robert Covington and Dario Saric.
That Butler was traded was not surprising. That Butler is headed to Philadelphia is. The Houston Rockets were reportedly offering four first-round picks for Butler, while he had also been linked to Brooklyn, New York and Miami.
While a move to Houston would have changed the landscape of the Western Conference, a move to just about any feasible team in the East wasn’t expected to change much.
But the 29-year-old two-way star going to a 76ers team trying to compete with a young core? This shakes up the entire Eastern Conference as teams see an opening for a Finals berth in the wake of LeBron James leaving Cleveland and the East for Hollywood and the Lakers.
Butler now joins a roster that includes MVP candidate Joel Embiid, the reigning Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and other key pieces like J.J. Redick, former No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and Wilson Chandler. All of a sudden there’s a new Big Three in the East, and the Atlantic – which seemed like a two-team race between Toronto and Boston – now adds a third contender.
Philadelphia sits at 8-5, good for third in the East but 3.5 games behind the red-hot Raptors. And that 8-5 record is a bit misleading; the 76ers are 20th in net rating, and all 10 teams behind them have losing records. They’ve essentially been the “worst” team with a winning record this season.
Enter Butler, who is averaging 21.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 36.1 minutes per game. It’s game on in the Eastern Conference, and the Sixers may now be leading that charge.
It turns out adding an All-Star in his prime makes an NBA championship more likely. Oddsmakers moved the 76ers’ 2019 title odds from +2200 to +1100 following news of the trade.
Any consideration of this bet, of course, needs to include analysis on how they might topple the Warriors. Well, Embiid is a matchup nightmare for whoever guards him, Ben Simmons is a 6-foot-11 point guard and Butler can put the clamps down on just about anyone in the league while also scoring 20 points a night. It’s not a recipe for success against the Warriors – is there one? – but it’s a start.
The Raptors look unbeatable right now because, well, they have been. They’re 11-1, their only loss coming on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks while they were without Kawhi Leonard. They’re the favorites in the Atlantic, and oddsmakers agree in giving them -145 odds.
Boston probably has the best top-to-bottom roster in the division, but at 8-5 and struggling so much offensively it’s looking less likely that they can catch the streaking Raptors.
The 76ers, though? Well, everything’s changed with Butler. There isn’t a better three-headed attack in the East and they’ve got the most upside, depending on how quickly Butler can adjust to his new surroundings. Because of that, their +350 odds on 888Sport are excellent value.
Butler will help the 76ers in the regular season – potentially to a division championship – but they paid up for the All-Star because of his postseason fit. He’s one of the most well-conditioned players in the NBA, he defends four positions, he loves to play ugly and get to the free throw line and he’s capable of playing 42-45 minutes each night.
We don’t want to make him sound like LeBron James, but Butler is the perfect playoff player. He managed to win two playoff series with an undermanned Bulls team, and how he’s got two superb players in Simmons and Embiid to help him out.
The 76ers were exposed in the postseason last year because they were simply too young against the vet-savvy Celtics. That won’t be the case this time around, and their +350 odds on 888Sport.com to win the LeBron-less East looks solid.