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How Does the Jimmy Butler Trade Alter the East?

Should the Boston Celtics be worried that their Eastern Conference rival just traded for Jimmy Butler. Are the Philadelphia 76ers a real threat in the East now?

The Jimmy Butler soap opera finally came to its inevitable conclusion Saturday, with the Minnesota Timberwolves trading Butler and Justin Patton to the Philadelphia 76ers for Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a 2nd round draft pick, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

We knew the Timberwolves were going to trade Butler eventually given all the drama that’s surrounded him this season, but it comes as a bit of a surprise that he ends with Philadelphia, a rival of the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference and an Atlantic Division foe.

How does the trade effect the balance in the Eastern Conference? Did the Philadelphia 76ers put themselves in the conversation among contenders with the addition of another All-NBA talent?

As good as Jimmy Butler is–and he’s probably one of the 12 or so best players in the league–he doesn’t make the 76ers true contenders, at least not immediately.

Long term, Philadelphia has put itself in great position moving forward, adding a star two-way wing to pair with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and give its roster a clearer pathway to contention. This season, however, the 76ers are still, at best, the fourth best team in the East, clearly behind Boston, Toronto, and Milwaukee.

Butler, Simmons, and Embiid will be a dynamic, talented trio, but they are not natural fits alongside each other and it will take time for them to figure out how to merge their talents, as well as rearrange the roster to augment their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.

All three players are at their best scoring in the paint. Simmons has scored more points in the paint per game than any guard in the league this season besides Russell Westbrook and Zach LaVine. The point forward ranks 10th in the NBA in field goal attempts per game inside of five feet with 7.9, while Embiid is right behind in 14th at 7.7.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler is a downhill scorer at heart, too. This season, 63 percent of Butler’s shot attempts are at the rim or in the short mid-range, according to Cleaning The Glass. Among guards, he ranks 11th in field goals made inside of five feet.

While Embiid is a more-than-willing three-point shooter, he only shoots 32 percent from distance for his career. Butler is a bit better, at 34.1 percent for his career, and has improved as an outside shooter, but he’d still rather attack the basket. Simmons is afraid to even attempt a three.

In order to maximize these players offensively, the 76ers must surround them with three-point shooters. Players who like to score in the paint need space to be most effective, and the court is already going to be shrunk with those three playing together.

After losing Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Bellineli in the offseason, Philadelphia was already short on shooting in their rotation this season. Giving away Robert Covington (39 % 3-PT) in the trade, though necessary, will only make matters worse in that department.

J.J. Redick is one of the best three-point shooters in league history, but he’s the only consistent threat from beyond the arc in the Sixers rotation, unless you include rookie Landry Shamey (38% 3-PT), who has played well thus far and might be thrust into a bigger role after the trade.

Dario Saric was in a horrific shooting slump through the first 10 games for Philly, but he was a big who could stretch the floor for Simmons and Embiid. Now, the 76ers will have to hope Wilson Chandler or Mike Muscala can help fill that void.

Philadelphia was weak around the edges of their rotation before they made this trade, and that’s the case even more-so now. Sixers management is hoping the star power will negate the lack of depth, or they can make another move, either this season or in the summer.

Reports are that Butler is going to agree to a long-term deal with Philadelphia and the Sixers will still be players in a big free agent market with cap space to spend this summer. Perhaps they can pull Kyle Korver, who played his first five seasons in Philadelphia, from the Cleveland Cavaliers. Surely, role players will now be attracted to Philadelphia as a destination.

Though Covington was a a First Team All-Defense selection last season, the Philadelphia defense should also improve with the addition of Butler, who is a more versatile and complete defensive player than Covington. However, the offense, already ranking 21st in the league before the trade, will have an adjustment period, and could be schemed out of the playoffs by the right opposing coach.

In the playoffs, against deeper, more complete teams like Boston and Toronto, Philadelphia will come up short until it can improve around its new core.  When you have weak links in your playoffs rotation, teams with five offensive threats like the Celtics and Raptors will pick on players like Redick, Fultz, Muscala, and Shamet.

In the playoffs, smart teams will wall off the paint completely, like we saw the Boston Celtics do to Simmons in the postseason last year, and the top-tier talent won’t matter if the role players can’t make enough shots to keep the defense honest.

Next: 10 Boston Celtics Who Belong In The Hall of Fame

The Philadelphia 76ers have done well to secure a top NBA talent in the prime of his career and they have put the rest of the Eastern Conference on notice with this move. But Boston and Toronto aren’t shaking in their boots and the Sixers still have a ways to go before they reach the upper echelon of the NBA.

It’s all a part of The Process.

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