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Winners and losers from Jimmy Butler trade to Philadelphia

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Don’t call this trade a “win-win,” but it’s not a “lose-lose” either.

Like all the best trades (and most deals that get done in today’s NBA), the trade of Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia makes some sense for both sides, and what you think of it depends on what you think of the risks for both sides. In the deal (to be finalized Monday when the league office reopens), Philadelphia gets Butler and injured center Justin Patton; Minnesota lands Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless (who could be waived) and a 2022 second-round pick.

Philly wants to compete right now with Boston and Toronto — and don’t leave out Milwaukee — at the top of the East, this trade gives them a chance to do it. That is, if Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons — all players who prefer to operate with the ball in their hands — can meld their games. They all have different strengths, it can work — if everyone is willing to sacrifice. For Minnesota, this was a solid trade considering the shotgun nature of it and the pressure Butler put them under by trying to blow up their franchise.

Who won and who lost in this deal? Here is a breakdown.

Winner: Jimmy Butler

He wanted out in the worst way and disrupted a promising young franchise to make it happen. Toronto Vince Carter would be proud. But Butler didn’t just want out of Minnesota, he wanted to go to a team that could both pay him big next summer, and contend for ring with him. He got all that. Philadelphia struck out big game hunting in free agency last summer and rather than wait until next summer they went with this fit. It may work, at least for the next couple of years (keep reading). Also, the reports are already out there that the Sixers plan to re-sign Butler. No doubt he wants to hit free agency and get that five-year, $190 million payday, but considering his age (he turns 30 next summer) and the Tom Thibodeau miles on his body, Philly may try to find a shorter option.

Winners: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons — the Sixers went all in.

Philadelphia has plateaued to start this new season. The team hasn’t been terrible (8-5 record), but they have the point differential of a .500 team, and their offense has been bottom 10 in the league. Watch a Sixers game, then look at Boston or Toronto or Milwaukee, and the gap with the elite was obvious. Now, the Sixers could be back in the mix. If the ball-dominant games of Butler/Simmons/Embiid can mesh (Butler can play well off the ball, it’s just not his preference), and if the Sixers can find enough shooting and depth they should be a threat to everyone in the East, and where they want to be.

Loser: Markelle Fultz.

If you thought he was having confidence issues before, imagine how he feels after that glare he gets from Butler following his next couple of clanked threes. Butler’s intensity and high standards withered the confidence of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, what is it going to do to Fultz? Philly has its big three now, and Fultz is not in that picture. It makes sense, once Wilson Chandler gets healthy, for the Sixers to move Fultz to the bench and have him as a sixth man. However, whether or not he can fill that role, and if the Sixers will look to trade him now, are both open questions.

Winner: Karl-Anthony Towns (and his state of mind).

The Towns/Butler feud was about as quiet as the Pete Davidson/Ariana Grande breakup, but Butler is the louder, more dominant personality and that seemed to have Towns stepping back. In the games Butler has sat this season (for “general soreness” or any reason) Towns has scored 9.6 more points per game and has looked more aggressive and focused. With Butler, Towns looked lethargic and disinterested. Minnesota became Towns’ team the day he signed that max rookie contract extension last summer, the feud with Butler divided the team and stopped from happening. Now, Butler is gone, Towns needs to own this, take charge and make the Timberwolves his own.

You can say the same things about Andrew Wiggins if you want, but I have moved on from him as a cornerstone kind of player.

Loser: Miami Heat and Houston Rockets.

Both of these teams can argue they put better offers on the table than the one Thibodeau and Minnesota took from Philadelphia. I think Miami’s argument there is legit — with the offer they made before the season started with Josh Richardson and a 2019 first-round pick (plus Dion Waiters to make the money work). However, with Richardson playing well to start the season (20.5 points a game, knocking down threes, looking like an All-Star) and on a great contract (four years, $42 million), ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported he was pulled off the table. That killed any deal — and it destined the Heat to mediocrity this season.

That Rockets’ “four first-round picks” offer made for an eye-catching headline but wasn’t really that great. The 2019 and 2021 picks will be deep in the 20s because the Rockets are good, we don’t know the protections on the 2023 and 2025 picks, plus Minnesota would have had to take on the bad Brandon Knight contract. Things maybe could have been worked with Eric Gordon, but that mean fewer picks. It was never going to work, but for a capped out Rockets team off to a slow start of its own, it could have used the jolt Butler gave them.

Loser: Sixers floor spacing.

This season Philadelphia is taking 38.7 percent of its shots from three, but they are hitting 33.6 percent, 21st in the league. Meaning a pedestrian 29.8 percent of their points were coming from three — teams know this and are packing the paint, especially when Fultz and Simmons are on the court together. Now it’s about to get worse. Covington has been the Sixers best three-point shooter this season, hitting 39 percent on 5.9 attempts per game. Dario Saric has had a rough start from three this season (30 percent) but he shot 39.3 percent last season and he will improve this season. While Butler is shooting 37.8 percent from three, he does not make up for the lost shooting in this trade.

Expect the Sixers to make another move to add shooting to this roster.

Winner: Tom Thibodeau’s dream of Minnesota making the playoffs in the West.

Tom Thibodeau knows he’s coaching for his job and he wants desperately to make the playoffs this season, which is why picks-heavy trade offers never got far with Minnesota. Covington and Saric give the Timberwolves quality players who fit needs and can be plugged right into the rotation. Just with the Butler distraction gone, the Timberwolves should improve. I wouldn’t bet on the Timberwolves making the postseason, they have to be able to climb out of the hole they dug themselves, currently three games out of the playoffs and needing to jump five teams. Even though it’s early, in a deep West that’s not going to be easy.

Loser: Sixers depth

Philadelphia’s top four — Embiid, Butler, Simmons, J.J. Redick — can stand toe-to-toe with any top four in the league… except for that team in the Bay Area. But anyone else. The problem has been depth, after those four the drop off has been steep — and that’s about to get worse. Covington and Saric averaged 64 minutes a night between them, as impressive as Butler is he can’t make up all those minutes. Wilson Chandler needs to get healthy, rookie Landry Shamet has shown promise (and can shoot), but the Sixers need the bench to step up now. Maybe play Butler can practice and play with the third string, that usually goes well

Winner: NBA Twitter

Not only did NBA Twitter already go off already on the trade, but now two of the biggest trash talkers in the NBA are on the same team. Bring. It. On.

Zion Williamson’s sprained knee became bad day for Nike

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When presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson went to the ground, his knee twisting, early in Duke’s game against North Carolina Wednesday night, the basketball world collectively gasped.

Former President Barack Obama was there and quickly recognized the problem:

It did, unquestionably. The  6-foot-7, 284 pound Williamson was wearing the  PG 2.5 PEs (the Paul George signature line of Nikes), and when he made a hard cut the shoe gave out and Williamson went to the ground in a heap. The television cameras closed in on the busted Nike.

That’s not good press.

Fortunately, Williams suffered only a mild, Grade 1 knee sprain, and is day-to-day.

Nike released a statement to multiple media outlets that said, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Nike stock dropped one percent on Thursday, although that level of fluctuation is not serious.

Bottom line, if this remains an isolated incident, Nike’s reputation — and position as the dominant force in basketball shoes — is not in danger. Fans and players will forgive one random incident. Have it happen again to a high-profile player and… Nike doesn’t want to find out.

 

Marcus Smart on today’s NBA: “Everything’s become real cute… Everybody’s scared to get hit”

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“I think it’s wonderful what we’re seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we’ve made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I’d like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can’t dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver All-Star weekend in Charlotte, and television ratings and overall interest in the league back him up — NBA ratings have been largely rising for years, both on the local and national level. Fans seem to gravitate towards fast-paced, entertaining teams and games.

But not everybody loves it. Charles Barkley can lead the “get off my lawn crowd.” However, there is a role for throwback players in the game. Guys who would have thrived in the 1990s, or the 1960s. Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of those guys — he told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report he wishes there was more physicality in the league.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, my mindset and the way I play would be perfect. They play like that every game,” Smart says…

“That’s just what it is! Exactly!” he says, a smile breaking through. “I think we kind of lost that in today’s game. Everything’s become real cute. Everybody’s scared to go to the rim. Everybody’s scared to get hit. Everybody’s scared to touch.

“I thrive on the contact. Contact is in my nature.”

The NBA has always had to strike a balance between physicality and allowing skill to flourish. Right now the pendulum has swung well over to the skill side, and some fans romantically recall 1990s basketball when the pendulum was on the other side. They think of Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson and remember the era fondly through the haze of time. Of course, what that time obscured were the slogs of games with scoring in the 80s and maybe 90s, they forget how hard it could be to watch Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers clutch and grab their way to a slow, tedious, and coach-controlled four quarters. The 90s were not filled with the beautiful game.

But in any era, a guy like Smart has real value because he’s a good basketball player. Plain and simple. Just one who would like to be allowed to be a little more physical.

 

76ers coach Brett Brown: Markelle Fultz didn’t mean to insult Philadelphia coaches

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After getting traded from the 76ers to the Magic, Markelle Fultz said, “It just excites me really to know that I have coaches that’s going to push you to be better and not just going to tell you what you want to hear.”

I don’t know whether Fultz intended that to sound like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. But it sounded like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Brown said Fultz “didn’t mean that.”He said the two have spoken back and forth.

“He’s a good kid,” he said. “He’s a good young man, and, truly, we wish him well.”

I’d prefer to hear that directly from Fultz. But I doubt he’ll do any more interviews this season until he plays again – and who knows when that will be?

Still, it can be difficult for a player to compliment his new team without sounding like he’s admonishing his old team. There was always a good chance that’s all that happened with Fultz. Brown’s explanation makes that even more likely.

Report: NBA formally submits proposal to lower draft age to 18, end one-and-done

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It’s coincidental this happened the day after Duke star and likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson sprained a knee in a much-hyped, nationally televised game. This is been in the works for a while and is now becoming realty:

The NBA formally submitted a proposal to the National Basketball Players Association (the players’ union) to lower the draft age from 19 to 18. Meaning players could be drafted to the league straight out of high school. While that will not come until likely 2022, the formal proposal starts the project, reports Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today.

The NBA has submitted to the National Basketball Players Association a formal proposal that will lower the draft-eligible age to 18 from 19, a person with knowledge of the proposal told USA TODAY Sports…

The league and union have had informal discussions about lowering the age limit, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver is on record saying the current 19-year-old age limit is not working for the league or college basketball.

This is the first step in formal negotiations to lower the age limit by the 2022 draft. The issue is collectively bargained between the NBA and NBPA, and both sides need to agree to any rule change.

There have been sticking points during those informal discussions between the sides. Specifically, the league wants to require that agents provide every team with full medical reports on players, and the league wants players to be forced to participate in some level of the NBA Draft Combine. As of now, agents often withhold medical info from teams they don’t want to draft their players (that doesn’t always work) and elite players often do little more than get measured at the combine. It’s a fight over information and the sides will need to find a compromise.

Silver had told reporters over the summer that the NCAA’s own report from Condoleezza Rice’s Commission On College Basketball called for an end to one-and-dones, and that has motivated him to end the practice. However, to give teams ample time to gear up scouting and get development programs in place, nothing will happen before the 2022 draft.

This has been a long time coming, the one-and-done rule is a compromise neither the NBA or colleges liked much, and it has made players resentful. What exactly the process will look like on the other side remains to be seen, but it should be better than the mess we see right now.