The Minnesota Timberwolves ended a nearly two-month saga on Saturday by agreeing to trade their disgruntled All-Star guard, Jimmy Butler, to the Philadelphia 76ers, according to two people with knowledge of the deal.
To create a star trio of Butler, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers will surrender Dario Saric and Robert Covington, who were starters on last season’s 52-win team, according to the people, who were not authorized to discuss the details of the trade publicly.
The Sixers will also part with a future second-round draft pick and the veteran guard Jerryd Bayless to get Butler and Minnesota’s 2017 first-round draft choice, Justin Patton. The trade is scheduled to be officially announced on Monday.
The Athletic first reported that the teams had reached an agreement.
Butler’s future with the Timberwolves has been uncertain since Sept. 18, when his desire to be traded was first reported. The report came after he had a face-to-face meeting with Coach Tom Thibodeau.
The chaos stemming from Butler’s desire for a move and Thibodeau’s initial unwillingness to accommodate him has rivaled LeBron James’s early days with the Los Angeles Lakers in commanding the N.B.A. spotlight over the past two months.
Butler was held out of training camp for about two weeks — a decision he and the team agreed on so it could explore trade options — then made a dramatic return Oct. 10 for what his intensity and shouting turned into a heated practice session, which he followed by granting a sit-down interview to ESPN.
The New York Times reported last month that Minnesota had come close to trading Butler to the Miami Heat on at least two occasions in the ensuing month, for a package that included the promising Miami swingman Josh Richardson and a future first-round pick.
The Timberwolves also rebuffed numerous approaches from the Houston Rockets. Aside from Philadelphia, Houston had been Butler’s most aggressive suitor in recent days, offering four future first-round picks in its latest proposal. But Minnesota owner Glen Taylor and Thibodeau were intent on trading Butler to an Eastern Conference team.
The Wolves finally decided it was time to go through with a deal after a disastrous 0-5 road trip on the West Coast, during which the team’s growing struggles and daily scrutiny surrounding Butler steadily became a bigger distraction.
The Sixers, who got off to a middling 8-5 start, decided to swing big and gamble on Butler, 29, even though he can become a free agent July 1. It was the first major move for Philadelphia’s rookie general manager, Elton Brand, who was elevated to his post Sept. 20.
Re-signing Butler this summer will be imperative for the Sixers after having surrendered dependable talents like Saric and Covington. But Philadelphia clearly felt as if it had to strike now, after watching one All-Star swingman, Paul George, re-sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency last summer without ever really considering the Sixers — and then seeing the Toronto Raptors trade for another, Kawhi Leonard.
Although the West remains the far deeper conference, competition at the top of the East is especially fierce given the strong team that the Boston Celtics have assembled, as well as the flashy starts made by the Raptors and the Milwaukee Bucks. If Butler meshes with Embiid and Simmons, Philadelphia will have made the East’s upper crust even more formidable.
Because the Sixers will possess Butler’s Larry Bird rights, which allow teams to exceed the salary cap to re-sign their own free agents, he is eligible in July to receive a five-year maximum contract from them for an estimated $190 million. Teams that try to sign Butler away from the Sixers will be restricted to offering a four-year maximum at an estimated $141 million.
The Timberwolves ultimately chose a trade that gave them multiple starter-level players who will try to fill the void created by Butler’s departure. The move brings a premature and disappointing end to what Thibodeau undoubtedly hoped would be a long continuation of his successful partnership with Butler in Chicago.
Despite the turmoil of the past eight weeks, there has been no denying Butler’s impact in Minnesota, where he spent only one full season. With Butler on the floor in 2017-18, the Wolves ended a 13-season playoff drought and briefly rose as high as third in the West.
When Thibodeau traded Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and a draft pick (that became the prized Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen) for Butler, he couldn’t have foreseen having to send him elsewhere so soon.
It appeared that the Wolves had the leader they badly needed to guide their prized young duo of Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. But rumblings of Butler’s discontent began in earnest in July, convincing numerous rival teams that the Wolves would ultimately have to trade Butler rather than risk losing him in free agency without compensation.