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What Does the Jimmy Butler Trade Mean for the Clippers?

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Jimmy Butler finally got traded.... to the Sixers. How will this impact the Clippers, both now and in the future?

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

One of the country’s national nightmares is now over, as Jimmy Butler has finally been traded off the Minnesota Timberwolves. The saga has lasted around two months, and left in its wake scores of trade rumors, some hilarious stories, and a pitiful 4-9 start to the season for the Wolves. In the end, the Sixers nabbed him (and second-year big man Justin Patton) for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2nd round pick. Not bad Thibs. Not bad at all.

Despite being mentioned as an early candidate for Butler, the Clippers never really seemed to be in the running. This could be for a myriad of reasons. It’s possible that the Clippers didn’t view Butler as their missing superstar, believing him to be a hair shy of that transcendent player that they want to build around. Another possibility is that they did like him a lot, but that Thibs price was just too high, and they weren’t willing to part with Tobias Harris, Jerome Robinson, or any 1st round picks (it’s obvious Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is going nowhere). Finally, the Clippers have been all about culture and bringing in the right people, and even if they do think that Butler is a superstar, they were wary of his personality and attitude problems in their carefully curated locker room. Ultimately though, the trade stills effects the Clippers in a couple ways.

First, the Wolves are now a completely different team. They’ve been putrid to start the year, with a 4-9 record but play that looked so much worse. The only game they’ve looked happy was the one when Derrick Rose scored 50 points — and Jimmy Butler was coincidentally not playing. With Butler gone, a shadow has been removed from the team. Their chemistry should be better, the team should play harder, and Karl-Anthony Towns in particular will probably have a resurgence.

That’s not even mentioning that Robert Covington is quite probably their 2nd best player now. An All-NBA defender who’s deadly from deep and doesn’t need the ball, Covington is a perfect fit with Towns on the wing, and should be able to shore up the Wolves’ shaky perimeter defense. Saric has been “eh” to start the year, but he was quite good last season, bringing size, defense, some playmaking, and shooting, and is another great fit with Towns as a stretch power forward. The Wolves still need better play from Towns and Wiggins, but they are a more dangerous, together team than they were yesterday.

The other significant ripple from this deal is that it might remove Butler from the free agent market next summer. Woj has already said that Butler and the Sixers believe they can work out a deal for him to still in Philly long term, which makes sense: this would be a lot for the Sixers to give up for just a rental. Of course, the fit both on and off the court might not work out in Philly. There’s a decent possibility both that Jimmy decides he’d rather be elsewhere, or that the Sixers don’t like his fit next to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and that he does therefore hit the market in 2019.

However, this reduces the odds of Butler coming to the Clippers in free agency by a substantial margin. A fourth reason the Clippers may not have traded for Butler is that they think he will come over in free agency, and so didn’t want to spend assets to acquire him 8 months early (waiting doesn’t sound like the Clippers’ new FO, though). By all accounts, the Clippers had been near the top of his wish list next summer, and that might change if the Sixers make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. If Butler is off the board, that’s one less star free agent in the pool, making competition for the rest even tougher.

There were definitely issues with signing Butler next summer - his age, the injuries, the miles - but he’s still a top 15 player in his prime who fits the Clippers’ tough, aggressive new ethos. Him getting traded to a team that has a strong chance of re-signing him is a definite blow, and the return making the Wolves a competitive team again is even worse. I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the Clippers trading away their future for Butler, but this deal to Philly was probably one of the worst possible outcomes for the Clippers.