Trading Jimmy May Have Saved the Wolves

The Jimmy Saga

Let’s start with a recap of the Jimmy Butler Saga before the season began:

  • July 14th – Butler turned down a 4yr/$100 million extension from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
  • September 19th – He met with Coach Tom Thibodeau and demanded a trade.
  • October 10th – Jimmy leads the third-stringers to a victory over the starters in a practice. To add fuel to the fire, he continually questioned the toughness of young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Fast-forward to the first month of the season and the Timberwolves are sitting at 4-9, in the midst of a five-game losing streak, and Jimmy Butler is taking nights off for “precautionary reasons.” With just shy of $340 million committed to Wiggins and Towns, a change to foster their development was needed. 

The Trade

After stating that he preferred to be traded to either the Knicks, Nets, or Clippers; Butler was ultimately traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. They acquired Jimmy and injury-prone big man Justin Patton. In exchange, the Timberwolves received Robert Covington, Dario Saric, salary-matcher Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick. 

Both teams were highly motivated to make the trade. The Sixers were keen to add a third star to complement the two they already had in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. To do so via trade instead of waiting for free agency was optimal for them. The Timberwolves, as mentioned earlier, wanted to move on from Butler while taking back quality assets.  

The Haul for the Wolves

The prizes of the deal for Minnesota were Covington and Saric. 

Robert Covington is a 6’9″ forward who started 258 games for the Sixers over the past four seasons. He was named to the All-Defensive First-Team last season and is a career 36% shooter from three. He is a relatively inexpensive, controllable player with three years left (after this year) on his contract at about $12 million per year. 

Dario Saric is a 6’10” combo forward who in two seasons in the NBA  averaged 13.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. He has the ability to stretch the floor, attack the rim, and is a capable ball-handler and playmaker. He is on a team-friendly contract through 2020 at slightly over $3 million per season.

The Results 

Since the day of the trade, the Timberwolves are 9-4, with key wins over Western Conference Playoff hopefuls (Blazers, Spurs, Pelicans, and Rockets). This turnaround is directly attributed to the acquisition of Covington. RoCo leads the NBA in steals per game and the advanced statistic Defensive Real Plus-Minus. Covington also possesses the superhuman ability to make up for the defensive deficiencies of both Towns and Wiggins. Something Butler could not do. Since his arrival, the Wolves have the fourth-best defensive rating in the league. 

Most importantly though, he has reinvigorated Towns. In the last 10 games KAT is averaging 22.8 points and 12.2 rebounds and was highlighted by a 35-point and 12-rebound performance against the Hornets. Towns was viewed as a potential franchise cornerstone and one of the best young big men in the league. With Butler, he failed to live up to those expectations, with Covington as his sidekick he may reach his potential. 

The Timberwolves culture and chemistry is no doubt in a better place than it was prior to the season, and the wins are a byproduct. The Towns, Wiggins, Covington trio coupled with serviceable complementary players will have the T-Wolves firmly in the mix for a second consecutive playoff birth. 

Photo Credit: Wendell Cruz | USA Today

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