Jimmy Butler has finally been traded out of Minnesota. Hours after an article published by The Atheltic detailed Butler’s ongoing disdain with the Timberwolves organization, the saga finally came to an end as the Philadelphia 76ers acquired Butler and Justin Patton in a deal that sent Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a second-round pick packing to Minnesota.
The Timberwolves lost to the rising Sacramento Kings on Friday – their fifth straight loss – as they were completely outplayed by the younger and faster group. That was apparently the final straw for head coach and General Manager Tom Thibodeau, as he believed he could no longer let this continue and eventually decided on a deal with Philly.
He was only about two months too late to the party.
So now we have a rebranded edition of the 2018-19 Timberwolves. One that features Karl-Anthony Towns as the franchise centerpiece – again.
Dissecting this trade a bit more in-depth, it’s a great short-term deal for both teams. The Sixers now have the most talented trio of players in the Eastern Conference and are probably the number two favorite behind only the Toronto Raptors and their incredibly deep bench.
Minnesota accomplished two things. They sent Butler to the East, ensuring they won’t have to deal with him nearly as much in future matchups. The second one is they kept themselves competitive. Covington was a First Team All-Defensive player last season and has made a meteoric rise from the D-League to a deadly two-way player. Saric is a stretch-four who had taken a leap last season as a pace-and-space threat. He shot 39.3 percent on his threes last season at over five attempts per game but has regressed a bit this season. Bayless was more of a throw-in player on this deal to make the money work and won’t be a significant factor in this trade when we reflect on it in the future.
Adding Covington and Saric in place of Butler doesn’t make the Wolves a better team talent-wise, but it removes the cancer that was destroying this team’s chemistry. Minnesota’s 4-9 start to the season had much less to do with their talent level and everything to do with their lack of involvement and attention.
Towns has been disinterested throughout the majority of the season. Butler was taking games off to rest, which didn’t help the continuity of the roster, and when he did play, Towns was reluctant to be his normal self.
I’ve harped on how Towns has been settling for jump shots at a much higher rate than usual this season and the numbers back that up.
According to Cleaning the Glass, Towns has attempted nine percent more threes than last season, five percent more shots from midrange, and fourteen percent fewer shots at the rim. Only 29 percent of Towns shots have come at the rim this season, that ranks him in the 15th percentile amongst all centers. That is an inexcusable stat for someone with a uniquely versatile offensive skillset such as Towns, a skillset that relies heavily on an advanced post game. He has a legitimate shot at being one of the most creative and effective offensive players of all-time, but that opportunity had been wasted for the first 13 games of the season.
When Butler was in Minnesota, he was still their best overall player. His numbers were similar to what he put up last season, the only thing that wasn’t the same was the number in the win column. Now Towns regains that title.
We should see a brand new version of Towns now. A reinvigorated Towns, one who once again has a purpose to play and a voice in his own locker room. Butler wasn’t the reason that Towns made his first All-Star team last season. Now he gets to prove why.
In the three games that Butler sat out for Minnesota, Towns posted stat lines of 31 points on 9-16 shooting, 28 points and 16 rebounds on 9-17 shooting, and 23 points on 7-13 shooting. Those first two games – against Dallas and Utah, respectively – were arguably his two best performances of the season.
While I can’t say for sure what version of Towns will show up when they play their first game of the post-Butler era against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night, I can say you won’t see the same KAT who was sulking around the court or pulling himself out of games after air-balling a three.
The Wolves are back to being his team. They now go as far as he takes them. Saric should fit beautifully next to Towns, spreading the floor more effectively than Taj Gibson can – although Gibson has added the three to his repertoire this season. Covington brings them that defensive intensity they lost from Butler. The team got worse talent-wise but is going to gain so much more in chemistry and attitude that we should see that 4-9 record come up to .500 before the new year arrives.
This team with Butler was never going to make the playoffs. The ripple effects of Butler’s words and the circus being ran was never going to survive or thrive. Thank goodness Thibodeau finally realized it. This trade may damn near save the franchise. But Saric and Covington may not be enough to help them sneak into the bottom half of the playoffs.
There are 11 – maybe 12 – teams in the Western Conference that have a shot at making the playoffs, and that doesn’t include the Wolves. I’d be shocked if this team mustered up enough victories to compete for 45 wins. Andrew Wiggins is going to have to break out of his shell and Towns is going to have to play even better than I already imagine he will.
Jimmy Butler brought Minnesota it’s first playoff appearance since 2004 and then burned it all to the ground. Now it’s Towns’ job to build them back up.
Don’t be surprised if KAT goes for 40-points and 20-rebounds on Monday night. The Wolves might just be fun to watch again.
Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan