You know it’s a big transaction when the team’s championship odds are sliced in half in Vegas. That’s about what happened when Jimmy Butler was traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Sixers. Philadelphia’s odds to win the NBA championship when from 30-1 to 16-1, and after coach Brett Brown declared the team to be “star hunting” over the summer, the team appears to have found its third star to go with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The “star hunting” quote was going to loom over Brown until this kind of move was made. The Sixers were connected to LeBron James and Paul George in the summer and had been a popular trade destination for Kawhi Leonard. After striking out on all three, this season’s roster looked to be very similar to the one that lost in the second round in 2017-18. The franchise’s much-maligned rebuilding plan yielded the most wins in a season since 2000-01, but the consensus surrounding the organization was that one more star was needed to truly contend.
Among other things, Butler gives the Sixers a much-needed player to match up with the likes of Boston wings Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, both of whom played well in last year’s playoff series won by the Celtics in five games. He’s a versatile wing scorer that the rebuild lacked. Though there are some red flags that come with the acquisition. First and foremost, Butler can go to free agency next summer and until he’s inked to an extension, he can’t be penciled in for the long haul. Another obvious concern that will linger for the remainder of the season will be Butler’s chemistry and temperament with the abundance of young players on the Sixers roster. Butler grew unhappy with the culture in Minnesota, another roster loaded with youth, and it eventually lead to a toxic situation that reached a point of no return.
One of those young players whose career has not started according to plan is second-year combo guard Markelle Fultz. Fultz’s well-documented shooting struggles appear to be a part of a bigger mental problem that has hindered the early stages of his career after being selected first overall in the 2017 draft. While the internet has had some fun with the idea of Fultz and Butler clashing, it will be interesting to see how this impacts Fultz’s season and potentially long-term future with the Sixers. He’s started all 14 games so far this season, though with Butler now in as the third star, it’s fair to wonder just how big of a role Fultz will ever grow to see with the Sixers.
Whether Fultz hits his ceiling, is a colossal bust, or becomes something in between the two, there’s no doubt that 2018-19 gets a lot bigger for the Sixers when Butler first steps on the floor tomorrow night with the team in Orlando. Three stars seems to be the bare minimum to win a championship in today’s NBA, and in a wide-open East, a move like this certainly revitalized the fanbase after an inconsistent start marred by lots of struggles on the road. In making this move, the Sixers parted with pillars of “The Process” in Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Both are useful role players on cheap contracts and moving them for a star in the prime of his career with a player option to head to free agency next summer was a clear indicator that the organization is hitting the accelerator.
In a lot of ways, last season was the “happy to be here” year for the Sixers. The results of their rebuilding project were coming to fruition on the court and it led to a playoff berth and eventual series win against the Miami Heat. Losing to a longtime rival in Boston put a lot of those positive emotions aside though and had fans ready to take the next step. Fans grew impatient after the offseason did not net a star player. For at least the rest of this season, the Sixers have that star player and no longer is it just okay to make the playoffs or even win only one round. Expectations are as high as they’ve been in almost two decades, and now it’s time to see if they’ll meet them.