Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where it’s never a good idea to relax for too long. Let’s get to it:
*It’s a single-subject sort of day here, as I continue to examine the fallout of the Jimmy Butler trade nearly 48 hours after news broke.
First, the extreme near-term. What is happening TODAY, as it pertains to the trade? Well, the deal became official at noon when the Wolves sent out a news release. The terms are exactly as had been reported: Butler and Justin Patton to the 76ers, with Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick to the Wolves.
It seems likely that head coach/president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau will be able to talk about the trade during his pregame availability around 5 p.m., or at the very least after the game is done.
It’s unclear whether Covington and Saric will be part of the Wolves for the game Monday, but it seems like a pretty tight timeline. A more likely scenario is that they’re here and make their debuts Wednesday against the Pelicans. (Bayless is injured and hasn't played yet this season).
From a news standpoint, it makes sense that the Wolves wait to introduce them on Tuesday — so they aren’t competing with the retirement news conference of Joe Mauer.
*Butler, too, will likely make his Philadelphia debut on Wednesday. How he fits in with the 76ers — who like the Wolves are built around two young players, in this case Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons — remains to be seen.
Simmons said Sunday of Butler: “Obviously played against him once in Minnesota and in Philly, he just has a winning attitude and an aggressive side to him. I think he’s going to fit in well here.”
There is some skepticism over how well Butler will fit into the 76ers — not just from a culture aspect but from an on-court standpoint.
*When Covington and Saric do join the Wolves and start playing, it will be interesting to see how they fit. Looking at it from here, it seems like the lineup could be pretty nice for a few reasons.
First, they can both hit three-pointers. Covington, 6-9 small forward, and Saric, a 6-10 power forward, are better than 35 percent for their careers from long-distance. They will help space the floor better than Butler, who could make threes but was more inclined to work from 18 feet on in.
Second, both bring other skills to the table. Covington was a first-team All-NBA defensive player last season. While that was the first time he’s shown up on the first or second team all-NBA defense, it is worth noting that Butler never achieved better than second-team honors on that list. So it stands to reason the defense won’t suffer (which would be hard, anyway, considering how bad it’s been).
Saric is more of a Nemanja Bjelica-type — a “stretch” four who has better career rebounding numbers than fellow stretch four Anthony Tolliver. Covington, too, rebounds well for his position.
With a bunch of minutes for both guys — I would imagine Covington starts and Saric either starts or gets good run off the bench while Taj Gibson remains in the lineup — the Wolves’ woeful rebounding should get better. The Wolves have spent much of this season last in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage. Even a marginal uptick in that department could be a swing of two or three possessions a game.
Covington and Saric were key starters for a 52-win playoff team last season. Both are under contract at very reasonable prices (Covington for three years beyond this one at about $12 million per, while Saric is making $2.5 million this year and $3.4 million next year).
As another benefit: Andrew Wiggins figures to slide back to shooting guard, which had been occupied by Butler, since Covington is a small forward. There, Wiggins will be in better position to attack the basket and can exploit size mismatches, while his less-than-stellar rebounding might not be as much of an issue. With Wiggins listed at 6-8 and Covington at 6-9, the Wolves have a pair of long, athletic wings.
The trade does, though, make a power forward very expendable. The Wolves have Gibson, Saric, Tolliver and Gorgui Dieng. They’d still love to get a taker for Dieng’s contract, but both Gibson and Tolliver are on the final year of their respective deals and could fetch some sort of return in another trade.
*Will this be addition by subtraction in some cases? That’s the interesting question. There are two notions at odds here.
One: The Wolves were better during this pat year-plus when Butler was on the court. They were 40-29 when he played and 11-15 when he didn’t since he joined the team.
But that 40-29 includes 3-7 this season, when his trade request loomed over the season. With two quality players coming in, a better bench than was here a year ago and the cloud of the impending trade lifted, can the Wolves turn their season around? It’s possible, but the onus now is squarely on Karl-Anthony Towns and Wiggins. The Wolves have been way below .500 when those two have been their primary players in the past. They have something to prove, even if Wiggins is diplomatic about things.
“It’s not really having a chip on our shoulder that we can win without him. He’s a good player. Every team is going to be better with him,” Wiggins said Sunday after practice. “Now we’ve just got to go ahead and try to win. We dug ourselves a hole early and we’ve got to pick it up. That should be our chip, making the playoffs again when we’re counted out.”
Towns and Wiggins had their best offensive NBA seasons in Thibodeau’s first year here, before Butler arrived.
I’ll tell you one thing I won’t miss: Butler playing hero ball and dribbling at the end of game, setting up a long contested midrange jumper, usually with a poor result.
*And finally, the really big question: Will everything that transpired eventually — or quickly — spell the end for Thibodeau?
Chip Scoggins took a look at the whole situation and rightly concluded that Thibs is on thin ice.
Anything short of a post-Butler renaissance figures to lead to a change at the end of the season. A bad stretch in the next 12 games would lead to the conclusion that Butler wasn’t the only issue and hasten that decision from Glen Taylor, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday. Woj’s piece speaks to the desperation of late to make a deal and how Taylor stepped in to get it done.
We’re done with Butler watch. On to the next one.