Butler trade puts Sixers in line for title challenge

Jimmy Butler could start for Philadelphia against Orlando on Wednesday.
Jimmy Butler could start for Philadelphia against Orlando on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON • If there remained any doubt that the Philadelphia 76ers had reached the end of "The Process" - the term used to describe their rebuild under former general manager Sam Hinkie from 2013 - it was likely dispelled on Saturday in the form of a National Basketball Association blockbuster deal.

The Sixers agreed to a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves that will net them four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler in exchange for forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric, guard Jerryd Bayless and a 2020 second-round draft pick, according to multiple media reports.

The deal, which includes forward Justin Patton going to Philadelphia and is set to be finalised today, will mark the end of Butler's rocky tenure with the Timberwolves.

Minnesota acquired Butler in a trade with the Chicago Bulls last June, and the guard averaged 22.2 points per game last season while helping Minnesota secure their first play-off spot since 2005.

But, in the off-season, Butler voiced frustration over the status of his contract and reportedly turned down a four-year, US$110 million (S$151 million) extension offer in July.

As the pre-season neared, he demanded a trade and tension mounted between Butler, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, who also oversees the team's basketball operations, management as well as with teammates.

That continued into the season, although Butler's on-court performance did not seem to suffer with an average of 21.3 points in 10 games this season.

His move to Philadelphia now makes the Sixers an increasingly popular pick to reach the Eastern Conference Finals along with the Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors.

The 29-year-old will play alongside one-time All-Star Joel Embiid and NBA Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons, and the Sixers' new "Big Three" generated plenty of buzz on social media over the weekend.

Butler could make his debut at the Orlando Magic on Wednesday and guard Simmons believes the star trio can work together.

"He said he just wants to win," Simmons said after the Sixers' 112-106 loss at the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday. "That's the mindset we all have here. We're excited to get Jimmy in here."

Embiid, who reportedly asked Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins for their take on Butler, also told ESPN that his former teammates had only positive words to say about him.

"They thought that he was going to be good for us," the centre said.

"They thought that we were definitely going to get along. Wiggs told me that he thought that we were going to win the East for sure."

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 12, 2018, with the headline 'Butler trade puts Sixers in line for title challenge'. Print Edition | Subscribe