Robert Covington and Dario Saric were above average NBA players. The duo had many great qualities but both had deficiencies as well.
When they were traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a package for Jimmy Butler, a portion of Sixers fans were skeptical about giving up too much.
Actually, the Sixers didn’t lose much. In the end, picking up Butler was a scintillating move by new general manager Elton Brand.
And for many reasons.
Look at the end of the Sixers’ 122-119 overtime win at Charlotte last Saturday night for the biggest proof. Butler connected on the winning 3-pointer with three-tenths of a second remaining in overtime to seal the huge road win.
More than that was what transpired on the previous play as Kemba Walker drove to the basket. Butler blocked the shot and as he was careening out of bounds, managed to flip the basketball over his head and into the hands of Wilson Chandler. Oh, and Walker had already scored a whopping 60 points.
Butler made huge plays on both ends of the court, the type of plays you expect to see from a four-time All-Star. That’s why he’s a member of the Sixers. Covington and Saric are nice players, but not at that level. Not with the game on the line. Not as the playoffs approach.
“That’s what the great players can do,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown told reporters of Butler. “That’s what we spoke about with the inclusion of him, that he’s got the ability … to create his own looks and that is a rare gift in the NBA, those players who can generally do that at a high rate, and he’s one of them, and he’s ours.”
The Sixers likely would have finished with a good record by the end of the regular season with Covington and Saric. But they weren’t going to the NBA Finals. They likely wouldn’t have gotten close.
With Butler, the Sixers have three standouts to go along with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid and Simmons will improve so much faster with Butler in the lineup as well. He’s that good. He makes that much of a difference.
Butler has been a Sixer for all of five games so far, yet the impact is evident.
The Sixers craved a veteran All-Star who could lift them to the next level and that’s at least the Eastern Conference Finals. After advancing to the semifinal round, before falling to the Boston Celtics last season, the Sixers seemed to be trending upward.
When this season began, it was obvious the Sixers had taken a step or two backwards. Covington and Saric were available trade chips and were dealt. The franchise made the right decision and Brand made a move that pushed them forward with one deal.
Nevertheless, Butler’s presence won the game in Charlotte. There are plenty of regular season games remaining before the playoffs begin this season. By that point, Butler will be ready to win. So will Embiid and Simmons and the rest of the team.
How far the Sixers advance is unknown. But this much is known: with Butler, the Sixers’ chances are so much better.