Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic

Wolves rush Butler trade, but at least they can focus on basketball

The Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota has finally come to a close with a trade to the Philadelphia 76ers. The Timberwolves can finally get back to basketball.

It isn’t often losing one of the best players in the NBA qualifies as a relief, but then it isn’t often we see the sort of drama that has plagued the Timberwolves this season. With Jimmy Butler headed to Philadelphia, and Dario Saric and Robert Covington going the other way, Minnesota can finally focus on basketball again.

Nearly two months ago, on Sept. 19, Butler requested to be traded from the Timberwolves, sparking one of the most absurd sagas the NBA has seen. It had everything, from Butler missing games because his “body is sore” to a ridiculous practice tirade that included him beating the starters with third stringers.

That chapter of the Timberwolves’ season is now over. The team made the playoffs last season, where they were torched by Houston, and expected to return this year. However, they’re now 4-9 and sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference. But it’s still early and having put an end to the Butler trade saga, they can be hopeful of turning their season around, although they may have rushed the trade.

With locker room issues out of the way, the Wolves can focus all of their energy on the court. It’s going to have to start on the defensive end. They’re a middle-of-the-pack offensive team, but boast the third worst defensive rating in the league. Thankfully for them, Dario Saric and Robert Covington contest the 12th and 13th most shots as forwards, respectively. It seems unlikely the Wolves will continue allow the fourth highest field goal percentage to opponents.

Last year, both Covington and Saric shot better than Butler from 3-point range which should help the Timberwolves’ efficiency. Not to mention Saric was in the 80th percentile in isolation play, while Butler was in the 67th. However, this could be due to Butler averaging 2.1 more plays per game in isolation.

Where the Timberwolves really lose out is ball handling and critical passes. Neither Covington nor Saric can act as a primary ball handler, and neither has had strong assist numbers in any season. The emergence of Derrick Rose probably makes the Wolves feel more comfortable with losing that aspect of Butler’s game, but they’ll still miss it.

This feels rushed from the Timberwolves. Butler requested the trade before the season started and they had held strong on high demands. They were asking the Rockets for Eric Gordon and turned down Josh Richardson and a first rounder from Miami. There were even reports of the Rockets offering four first-round picks.

Yet they end up here, not receiving an established star or a first-round pick in exchange for Butler. Sure, Butler wasn’t going to re-sign and it is better to get something back rather than nothing, but this was definitely lighter than what they could have gotten. If they were going to wait, they might as well have waited until closer to the trade deadline, then flipped him to a more desperate team in need of him, for a bigger haul. Clearly, they didn’t maximize the talent return that they could have received by trading Butler.

Beyond basketball, though, the Timberwolves needed to the get the circus out of their locker room. Having Butler on their team after this summer’s drama meant his status was a constant question mark hanging over the team. Despite losing skills that are critical in today’s NBA, the Wolves brought in a solid haul and can now focus on playing basketball again.

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