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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.

Kelly Loeffler calls WNBA players supporting her opponent for senate ‘out of control cancel culture’

Sue Bird wears shirt supporting Raphael Warnock in senate race against Kelly Loeffler
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WNBA players and Kelly Loeffler hit a stalemate.

Players want to oust Loeffler as Atlanta Dream co-owner because Loeffler – a Republican U.S. Senator from Georgia – holds political stances they disagree with and is advocating against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler said she won’t sell, and the league won’t force her out.

So, players have turned to Loeffler’s senate race, wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” shirts in support of Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock.

Holly Rowe of ESPN:

Loeffler statement:

ATLANTA—Today, political outsider and conservative businesswoman Kelly Loeffler issued the following statement in response to WNBA players wearing “VOTE WARNOCK” t-shirts. The shirts endorse Kelly’s Democrat opponent, Raphael Warnock, following her criticism of the league’s embrace of the Black Lives Matter political organization.

“This is just more proof that the out of control cancel culture wants to shut out anyone who disagrees with them. It’s clear that the league is more concerned with playing politics than basketball, and I stand by what I wrote in June:

“We come together around sports, but promoting a political agenda divides us rather than unites us. The lives of every African American matter, and there’s no place for racism in our country. But I oppose the BLM political organization due to its radical ideas and Marxist foundations, which include defunding the police and eroding the nuclear family. On the other hand, our flag represents our values of freedom and equality for all. If we can’t unite behind our flag, much less the national anthem during this struggle, then what keeps us together? It’s sad to see that there’s more interest in tearing our country apart than in solutions that bring us together. I’ll continue to defend American values and our flag, because this is not a game – it’s the future of our country. “

“Cancel culture” is a vague term with shifting definitions. But people supporting voting for one political candidate over another? That comes nowhere near any reasonable definition of cancel culture.

WNBA players are not just basketball players. They’re human beings with varied interests – including politics. That should come perfectly naturally to a self-described “political outsider” who’s a sitting senator and running for re-election. If it’s reasonable for Loeffler to be interested in politics (it is), it reasonable for WNBA players to be interested in politics.

As far as Loeffler restating her previous points, she remains errant.

Writer recants report that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because team didn’t spend enough

Pacers executive Larry Bird
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The report from ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan that Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president because the team didn’t spend enough?

Never mind.

Pacers release:

Statement from Larry Bird

“A published report indicated that I left my position as President of Basketball Operations in 2017 because ownership was not willing to spend “big money” and that it frustrated me enough to step aside. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want everyone to know I left there because it was time for me to move on from the Pacers.

“I had worked with Kevin Pritchard and at that time I felt Kevin was ready to take over and he has proven that. I can’t thank Herb and Mel Simon, along with Pacers Sports & Entertainment, for the opportunities to, at first, coach, and then later move into the front office.”

Statement from ESPN senior writer Jackie MacMullan:

“About three weeks ago during a discussion on the podcast The Hoop Collective, I misspoke when I expressed my opinion regarding the business practices of the Indiana Pacers, and inferred that Larry Bird had been frustrated during his time as team president. It was a careless remark, based solely on my opinion, and therefore should have never been said. Larry Bird never expressed those feelings to me, and I apologize to both Larry and team owner Herb Simon for poor choice of my words.”

I don’t know why the Pacers bothered quoting Bird, who still works for the organization as Advisor to the President of Basketball Operations. MacMullan’s clear recantation says everything necessary (and speaks to her integrity and humility).

It’s good this story got cleared up.

Some things that remain true:

Three Things to Know: Is it time to worry about the Laker offense?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Is it time to worry about the Laker offense?

The Los Angeles Lakers have the worst offense in the bubble.

We’re not just talking about the 86 points on 35.2% shooting in Wednesday’s loss to Chris Paul and the Thunder, although that was a low point.

Four games into the NBA’s restart, the Lakers are scoring less than a point per possession while shooting 39.4% overall and 25.2% from three. Their offense has been worse than the Wizards in Orlando — and how many Wizards starters could you name right now? The Lakers’ starting five — LeBron James, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Anthony Davis, and JaVale McGee — have a dreadful 74.4 offensive rating though four games (and a -30.1 net rating).

Or, since a picture is worth 1,000 words, take a look at the Lakers’ shot chart in the restart.

That’s a lot of red.

Should Lakers’ fans be worried?

Probably not. This is some small sample size theater with just four games. Coach Frank Vogel has been playing around with the lineup rotations, things haven’t been playoff tight. Plus, after the Lakers beat the Clippers opening night they had the top seed all but sewn up, there hasn’t been real motivation for L.A. to play its best.

The Lakers players feel they are just missing shots they normally hit.

“I think it’s just as simple as making shots. We’re getting good looks. Everyone’s not shooting the ball very well, especially from three…” Anthony Davis said on a Zoom call with reporters after the Thunder loss.

I think we’re fine. I don’t think this is anything eye-opening or something that we need to be afraid of. If our defense was bad, I think we’d be a little more in shock about our team and where we are but I think our defense is where want it to be. I mean, we clinched first. We’re fine.”

The bigger reason the Lakers are fine: LeBron James. The Lakers have a very motivated LeBron (although he has shot just 42% overall and 27.3% from three over the last four games). They still have Davis, who has been one of the MVPs of the bubble so far. Those two form the best pick-and-roll combo in the league, and so long as they are on the roster the Lakers have a chance to win it all.

The shooting is a concern — and not a new problem. The Lakers were a below-average shooting team in the season before the shut down (21st in the league on open look three-point percentage). We’ve watched LeBron’s play cover up the flaws in a team and take them to the Finals for years, and it certainly could happen again, but the Lakers shooting — and right now their entire offense — is a concern.

2) Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons leaves game with a knee issue

Non-contact injuries keep fans and coaches up at night, which is why Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons walking off the court with a limp and going straight to the locker room with a knee issue Wednesday was very concerning.

Simmons did not return to the game after that.

The good news is there is reportedly no swelling and the MRI came back clean, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. Officially, Simmons is day-to-day.

Simmons had eight points on 2-of-10 shooting when he left the court. Through three games of the restart — where he is playing more off the ball as a power forward — he’s averaged 11.7 points and seven rebounds a game.

3) Memphis lost again, now 0-4 and could fall out of the eighth seed

The Grizzlies came to the NBA’s restart in Orlando with a 3.5 game cushion for the eighth seed, all they had to do was hold on to that through eight games. Now, after and 0-4 start, that lead is down to just one game over Portland.

On Wednesday, Memphis couldn’t slow down what had been a previously struggling Utah offense and lost 124-115.

The Grizzlies next four games? The Thunder, Raptors, Celtics, and Bucks. Memphis is going to have to find a couple of wins in there without Jaren Jackson Jr., who is out for the rest of this season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Before games started in the bubble, the idea of two teams passing Memphis — meaning the Grizzlies would fall even out of a play-in series for the eighth seed — seemed impossible. Right now, both the Pelicans and Spurs are just two games back, and both have soft schedules the rest of the way.

Memphis wanted to get some playoff experience for their talented young roster during the restart. Well, this is it — every game becomes must-win now for the Grizzlies. They need to be a focused team that finds another gear. For them to hold on and get in a play-in series will require a couple of wins in their last four.

The race for eighth in the West remains the best thing at the NBA restart. On Thursday Portland faces Denver, while New Orleans takes on winless Sacramento.

LeBron James: On behalf of basketball community, we won’t miss Donald Trump’s viewership

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NBA players kneeled for the national anthem.

President Donald Trump called the protest – which is meant to call attention to racism, particularly through police brutality – “disgraceful” and said he stopped watching games.

And in yet another predictable turn in this news cycle, Lakers star LeBron James fired back at Trump.

LeBron:

I really don’t think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership, him viewing the game.

And that’s all I’ve got to say. I don’t want to – I’m not going to get into a – because I already know where this could go, where it could lead to for tomorrow for me. I’m not going to get into it.

But I think our game is in a beautiful position. And we have fans all over the world. And our fans not only love the way we play the game – we try to give it back to them with our commitment to the game – but also respect what else we try to bring to the game and acknowledge what’s right and what’s wrong.

And I hope everyone – no matter the race, no matter the color, no matter their size – will see what leadership that we have at the top in our country and understand that November is right around the corner. And it’s a big moment for us as Americans. If we continue to talk about we want better, want change, we have an opportunity to do that.

But the game will go on without his eyes on it. I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball. We could care less.

LeBron has frequently criticized the president. Trump has also criticized LeBron. That’s how it goes.

In this case (and others), LeBron has the moral high ground. Kneeling during the national anthem is a patriotic act designed to make the United States a better place for all its people to live – something far more noble than saluting a piece of cloth during a song.

However, LeBron is wrong to speak for the entire basketball community. A lot of people love basketball. They don’t all hold the same political views. Some care about remaining in the good graces of the president of the United States, whomever that is. Some even care about the approval of Trump specifically.

Is there a limit on how much you love basketball if you’d stop watching because of a peaceful protest before a game? Obviously. But there’s still room to love basketball and also care about other things.

LeBron doesn’t have to personally dignify people who care both about basketball and Trump. But LeBron shouldn’t try to speak on their behalf, either.

LeBron’s rebuke would have been powerful enough (and more fair) on its own.