NBA: Winners and losers from the Jimmy Butler trade
The 76ers have become the best team in the Eastern Conference with this mega-trade. It was a tight competition with Toronto and Boston before the deal, but the addition of Butler gives Philly an edge over their division rivals.
Philly have played a high-risk, high-reward game with this transaction. Butler is on an expiring deal and never openly expressed an interest in being traded to the 76ers, but an optimistic front office in Philly know that Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons will be well-suited teammates for Butler and they can entice him to stay in the city of brotherly love past this season. The risk is obvious, but the reward could be a championship before their two star players have even entered their prime.
Some will question Philadelphia's motive to open their championship window right now rather than waiting for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to play their prime years with Saric and Markelle Fultz, which would coincide with the end of the Warriors' reign. The league is littered with 'what if' stories. Young cores with championship potential often explode or implode one way or another, and sometimes the team just has to try and win whenever it's ready, even if that happens to be years earlier than expected.
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden looked like a sure thing to eventually win a championship together after losing in the 2012 finals all aged 23 or younger. So did Penny Hardaway and Shaq after losing in the 1995 finals both aged 23 or younger. So did Derrick Rose's Bulls in 2011 when he was the youngest MVP in league history.
Embiid and Simmons are 24 and 22 years old respectively and could theoretically compete for championships for the next eight to ten years, but Embiid's injury history has to be of some concern, while any number of other unforeseen circumstances could pop up and derail the team at any moment, just as it did to OKC, Orlando, Chicago, and so many others.
Embiid is one serious injury away from having his career threatened, Simmons has dated Kendall Jenner but managed to avoid the Kardashian Curse so far, Embiid's twitter-fingers have landed him in trouble before, and just a few months ago the Bryan Colangelo burner account saga played out in front of our eyes.
This young team has seen no shortage of drama, and there look to be several avenues to this core potentially collapsing. We don't want to see it, but the possibility is always there; making the high-risk play now is just good sense for Philly. If the Butler era doesn't work out, they can still fall back on their young dynamic duo and they might be lucky enough to get a second championship window if their stars can stay healthy and drama-free.
Conversely, a high-risk trade like this has been known to work in the past. A third-year Dwyane Wade was able to deliver a championship to Miami in 2006 thanks to the team's willingness to trade high-priced assets including a young Lamar Odom and a first-round pick for Shaquille O'Neal, who was ageing but still dominant.
Wade wasn't in his prime yet, but he was ready to win if he had another star next to him. Miami bought low on a disgruntled Shaq from Los Angeles, altered their timeline for Wade, and won the championship earlier than anyone could have expected.
Butler will fit perfectly with Philly's lineup as a defensive superstar across multiple positions, and a low-usage offensive weapon. Embiid and Simmons will still get plenty of shots, and Butler's underrated passing skill-set and improved three-point shot will make them a better team than they were before the trade. The position-fluidity on both ends of the floor in a late-game lineup headlined by Embiid, Simmons, Butler and JJ Redick will be tough to guard, even for Golden State.