By: Michael Walker (Follow on Twitter @Mike_WalkerIC)
The NBA is approximately one third through its 2018-2019 season – and since this comes up every year – I figured I would get out ahead of the noise and check up on which conference has the right to claim supremacy so far.
This is what we’re hearing at this moment, per Shams
2022 second-round pick
I think this was a PERFECT move by the 76ers. They keep Markelle Fultz, and they keep a highly valued 2021 first-round pick from Miami (assets I thought would HAVE to go in any marquee deal). Covington is a solid two-way player (and elite defender), but so is Jimmy Butler, and what Butler brings on offense for this team will be worth the minor setback (and it won’t be much) he would be on defense. Saric is a solid player (been called a “poor man’s Kevin Love), but Philly did not value him or use him as well as they could have.
Minnesota gets a replacement for Butler in Covington, and a floor spacer to put next to Karl-Anthony Towns. You never get perfect value in a trade like this, but this move gives Minnesota good role players that fit their system (Thibs will love Covington) to place around the anchors of this team: Wiggins and Towns (and Rose?)
I wrote awhile back about new 76ers GM Elton Brand, and how he had the pieces (and future salary cap) to make a move, and boy, did he do just that.
The 76ers can now roll out a starting lineup like this:
Fultz – Reddick – Butler – Simmons – Embiid
Butler will solve a LOT of problems for this team, as they now have someone that can create on offense and get buckets. This will take the pressure off of Embiid to sore in bunches, and can allow Simmons to flourish as a playmaker. Fultz can keep trying to develop, but that’s for another day.
Prior to this trade, Philly only had $66 million on their books, but $14.7 million of that was for Saric and Covington. Now, that number goes down to roughly $51.3 million. They have more than enough room to sign Butler to a max contract, AND re-sign JJ Reddick to a deal like the one he has this season (~$12 million). Philly will need to prepare to sign Ben Simmons to a large contract soon (RFA in 2020), and can only have two max contracts on the books (Embiid has one), but they have enough salary to give Butler a good deal.
This was a calculated risk by Philly, as Butler could leave this offseason, but I think it was worth it. They keep Fultz, hoping he finds his pre-draft self and develops into something special. They keep that draft pick I alluded to earlier. And more importantly, if Butler does leave, they would have over $50 million in salary cap in an offseason that will feature Kevin Durant, Klay Thompsan, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins, etc. Philly needed a perimeter player and scorer to compliment Simmons and Embiid, and they got one. Butler (29) may be older than Embiid (24) and Simmons (22), and this may only be a short-term window to maximize on everyone’s talent, but Philly will have a solid 2-3 years to do so.
They were falling behind Boston, Toronto, and Milwaukee, and the status-quo was about to have them behind the pecking order in the East for years. Philly bet on their core, and bet on Butler to raise their ceiling. I think this puts them right in the discussion in the Eastern Conference. They still may lose to Boston and Toronto, but I can no longer say the massive advantage that existed before does now.
This was a bold move, but I liked it. You wall hated Kawhi to Toronto when it first happened, but look at Kawhi now:
Philly will be fine either way, and I know Ainge would have made the exact same move. Buckle up, the East just became fun (as did Christmas Day).