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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.

Raptors bench play key reason Toronto on cusp of first trip to NBA Finals

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There are multiple reasons the Toronto Raptors have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks three times in a row and now are one win away from the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard and his play — particularly his defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo — is a huge one. So is the Raptors incredible halfcourt defense, which has held the Bucks to an 84.3 net rating on halfcourt possessions in this series. When the Raptors have been able to slow the game down (which they have done very well the last two games, with possession totals in the mid-90s) they win.

Just don’t forget about the Raptors bench.

Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell — the three guys coach Nick Nurse leans on in his regular rotations — have been critical for the Raptors, and if they are again on Saturday night in Toronto it will lift the franchise to a place it has never been before.

Toronto’s starters are -23 in this series. That fivesome — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol — were -10 in Game 5, struggling against an impressive Milwaukee starting lineup.

In Game 5, it was the Raptors’ bench that led the comeback after the Bucks’ fast start. It has been that way all series. Lineups that have at least one of those core three Raptors bench guys on the floor are +30 this series. Lineups with all three of them on the court together are +12.

Different guys are stepping up each game. In Game 5 it was VanVleet’s turn. After a rough few games in this series, he got to Milwaukee late after being with his wife for the birth of their son, then proceeded to knock down 7-of-9 threes in Toronto’s come-from-behind win.

“He oozes the confidence that spreads to the other guys,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. “Again, he just stepped into the shots that were there tonight, and he was probably due to get hot in these playoffs. It’s been probably a long time coming. Great game by him.”

Toronto’s bench — and Leonard — are key reasons that this team responded to adversity, going down 0-2 in the series and bouncing back. It’s the experience of having been there before, having dealt with the pressure before, learning about themselves because they have been tested like this in previous years. Leonard and Green have rings from San Antonio, Gasol has been to conference finals in Memphis, Lowry has been there through all the Raptors struggles in recent playoffs. On the bench, Ibaka has seen plenty, and these guys have not been fazed by the moment.

It’s the test the Bucks are facing now — this group had never been challenged like this. Their athleticism and Antetokounmpo’s MVP-level season propelled this team to the best record in the NBA, then they swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs with an 8-1 record. After that, they beat the Raptors the first two games of this series.

However, now they have lost three in a row for the first time all season and they are learning about their weaknesses. The Bucks entire offense is based around the idea that nobody can slow Antetokounmpo one-on-one, except that Leonard has done just that. The Greek Freak has shot 35.5 percent this series (11-of-31, via Second Spectrum data) when Leonard has been his primary defender. Antetokounmpo also hasn’t found shooters and those guys have not hit the passes he does make, particularly in the halfcourt. Toronto has controlled the tempo the past few games, and when Antetokounmpo isn’t getting easy buckets in transition the Milwaukee offense stumbles. Toronto also has taken care of the ball and hit shots, with Leonard getting to his spots on the floor, which has limited the Bucks transition chances.

The Bucks need to make adjustments — finding ways to get Antetokounmpo the ball with better matchups, not having him attack from the top of the key every time and giving him some picks to force switches — and they need another ball handler, such as Eric Bledsoe or George Hill, to have a monster game. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon can and should do a little more shot creation.

And Milwaukee has to contain that Raptors bench and not get beat so badly when they are on the floor.

If not, the Bucks will be on vacation in Cabo next week while the Raptors are still playing.

Are Rockets trying to push Mike D’Antoni out the door?

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After a slow start to the season, by the end the Houston Rockets had found their groove and were the second best team in the West. That still wasn’t good enough to get by the Warriors dynasty. That has led to some soul searching in Houston.

And some changes to the assistant coaching staff. First came the news Jeff Bzdelik would not return in his defensive coordinator role. Then on Friday, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle put out a series of Tweets talking about the other coaching changes coming.

Cho had been with the Rockets for a decade. Roland worked closely with James Harden, among others.

This is a near total overhaul of Mike D’Antoni’s staff, which has led to speculation the Rockets are trying to push their coach out the door, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

D’Antoni has done an excellent job — and adapted his style — to coach these Rockets into being contenders. He is part of the reason this franchise is a contender. The Rockets have fallen short the last two seasons not because of D’Antoni, but rather because of the Warriors. Golden State is an all-time dynasty level team, they are beating everybody.

This feels like the East in recent years when coaches lost jobs and teams were broken up because they could not get past LeBron James‘ teams when the issue was really LeBron is one of the game’s all-time greats.

There could be other dynamics at play in Houston, but the challenge there is not the coach. If Tilman Fertitta is frustrated his team fell short again, he should start by looking in the mirror at the cost-cutting moves his team made this season to get under the tax line. That put a ceiling on this team more than anything D’Antoni did.

NBA makes it official, moves up free agency six hours to 6 p.m. June 30 (Eastern)

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I’d like to think this means we’ll all be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour on June 30. I also know better.

There is a frenzy of activity right as free agency opens (Tampering? There is no tampering in the NBA…), which traditionally has been as the clock turns to July 1 in New York, right at midnight. Things got so active that a lot of agents and players made sure they were in Los Angeles, even if they didn’t live there in the offseason, just so things started at the more reasonable hour of 9 p.m.

Now the NBA has made the rumors official: Free agency will begin at 6 p.m. Eastern on June 30. Six hours earlier than before.

This was done as an agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association.

This is going to be a wild July with a lot of big-name free agents — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler — and maybe a third of the players in the league on the market, plus there are a lot more teams with cap space to spend this season. It’s going to be a frenzy.

Now we know what time the wild times start.

Why does Kevin Durant respond on social media? “I’m qualified to talk about basketball”

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Every NBA player gets ripped on social media, even the guys who are not on social media. Most of the time players just ignore it, the way they ignore fans yelling stuff courtside or distant family asking them for money.

Kevin Durant, however, gets into it sometimes, even with national media members (and even had a burner account). Which always becomes a thing.

Why? Why not just ignore it? From Durant himself at practice Friday, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Because I have social media,” Durant said Friday… “I mean, I’m a human being with a social media account. I could see if I ventured off into like politics, culinary arts or music and gave my input, but I’m sticking to something that I know. You know what I’m saying? This is all I know. I’m actually talking about stuff that I know. I’m qualified to talk about basketball.

“So when I respond to something, especially if it’s about me personally, of course I’m going to tell you if you wrong about it. When I’m on the training table getting treatment on my calf and I see a tweet that come by and I disagree — I don’t talk to people because I’m worried about what they say, it’s just that I’m interested. So if you talking about in-game or the NBA Finals, they’re the same to me, you know what I’m saying?”

Durant seems to have more time on hands to get into these spats while he is out injured. Which likely will last into the start of the NBA Finals.

Does this mean the Drake/Durant beef is inevitable?