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How The Sixers’ Trade For Jimmy Butler Affects The Battle For Eastern Conference Supremacy

The Philadelphia 76ers’ trade for Jimmy Butler immediately raises their status as championship contenders. Where does that leave the rest of the East?

On November 10, the Jimmy Butler saga in Minnesota was put to an end, as the star forward was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. In exchange, the Timberwolves received a package centered around forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric, while also giving up their first round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft in oft-injured center Justin Patton. Now that the trade is official, where do the Sixers stand in the Eastern Conference, and how could the move potentially affect their rivals?

Impact On 76ers

Obviously, this deal is a huge win for Philadelphia. The Sixers were looking to add a star to play with up-and-comers Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and Butler was the perfect candidate. Although Saric and Covington both had important roles on the team, adding Butler to form one of the scariest big threes in the league will make those concerns irrelevant very soon.

To go off of that, the Sixers’ big three of Embiid, Butler, and Simmons will be terrorizing opponents in no time. Not only do they have the offensive repertoire to attack opponents in a variety of ways, but they also have tremendous length on the defensive end (especially with Simmons and Butler), allowing for a high degree of switch-ability on pick-and-rolls. If that wasn’t scary enough, add in the fact that Embiid was a Defensive Player of the Year finalist just a season ago, and you are looking at a unit that can lock down opposing offenses at every level of that end of the floor. 

As for the Sixers’ offense, it will certainly take some time for all three to understand their new roles within it. While Simmons will have to focus more on his playmaking ability with another talented scorer around him, Embiid and Butler’s status will be more in question. Both are score-first players, and they will have to divide their looks appropriately in order for the offense to operate at its highest efficiency level. That said, they are also talented passers for their given positions, so the adjustment should be easier because of that as long as they play unselfishly. 

Now with one of the best two-way players in the league in Butler, the Sixers immediately enter the conversation as the best team in the Eastern Conference, and could take it over if their big three gels properly. 

Up to this point in the season, Embiid has looked like the MVP favorite, and despite not yet developing a jump shot, Simmons has played admirably, too. Barring some significant chemistry issues, look for the 76ers’ big three to power them towards Eastern Conference supremacy in this season and beyond.

Impact On Other Championship Contenders (Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks)

For the Celtics, their short presence as Eastern Conference favorites following the departure of LeBron James is in jeopardy, to say the least. With the team sitting only two games above .500 and dealing with chemistry issues, the pressure is on Coach Brad Stevens to turn things around. Also, the team could make a move before the deadline if they feel they need more depth in their rotation, perhaps for a 3-and-D player to defend Simmons or Butler come playoff time. 

With the Bucks sitting at 11-4 led by MVP-candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, they shouldn’t feel overly worried about the Sixers’ move for Butler. However, like the Celtics, the team could look for another player to add to their wing rotation, especially considering Kris Middleton’s mediocrity on the defensive end.

Among these teams, the Toronto Raptors are in the best position to defend the Sixers’ newly formed big three. They have plenty of lengthy wings that can defend multiple positions, including superstar Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakam. However, the Raptors do have the unique problem among the Eastern Conference powerhouses of a franchise player who is not yet secured long-term in Leonard, or a young star. This places much more pressure on this season for the Raptors, as Leonard might not even consider staying in Toronto if the team doesn’t make the Finals.

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Impact On Playoff Contenders (Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets)

After being eliminated from the Playoffs in the first round last season due to a heroic performance from LeBron James, the Pacers are in an even more precarious position this year. With Boston, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Toronto presumably taking the top four seeds by the end of the season, the Pacers are most likely uncomfortable with their current roster’s ability to beat any four of those teams and avoid another first-round exit. Look for the Pacers to make a big move before the trade deadline, possibly for another star who could form a dynamic duo with recently established franchise player Victor Oladipo. 

The Pistons and Wizards are in especially concerning situations, given the presence of two proclaimed stars on the roster and little chance of going far in the Playoffs. Expect both of these teams to shop their stars (Bradley Beal and John Wall for the Wizards, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond for the Pistons) at the very least, and maybe move one of them this season to start a rebuilding process.

The Hornets fall into the same position with their franchise player, Kemba Walker. The star point guard is having a career year in Charlotte, but it likely won’t lead to any playoff success, or even seeding. As they did last year, look for the Hornets to see what they could get for Walker and possibly trade him in order to add more young pieces to play with Miles Bridges and Malik Monk.

Among these teams, the Heat are in the worst position following the Jimmy Butler trade. After pushing to trade for the star forward and falling short, they now find themselves with an expensive roster that might not even make the playoffs. While they could continue to shop Hassan Whiteside, it’s a task they have tried, and failed, to do in the past, as his bloated contract dissuades almost any potential buyers. 

Now that Butler is on the Philadelphia 76ers, the Eastern Conference is significantly more competitive than it was before. Teams like the Celtics and Raptors will have a harder time proving their status as championship contenders, while teams such as the Pistons and Wizards might not even have a reason to compete anymore. At the very least, the 76ers’ blockbuster move shifted the competitive balance closer towards the Eastern Conference and will make the fight for playoff seeding a whole lot more compelling.

Edited by Jazmyn Brown.

Which of the following players averaged more points per game than Jimmy Butler during the 2017-18 season?
Created 11/18/18
  1. Paul George
  2. Kemba Walker
  3. LaMarcus Aldridge
  4. Blake Griffin

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