On Saturday, the Minnesota Timberwolves agreed to trade Jimmy Butler to the Philadelphia 76ers, and with that move, the latter team will have the four-time All-Star forward/guard teaming up with young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, to form a “big three” that could help them make a bigger impact in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. As part of that trade, the Sixers will be sending erstwhile starting forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric to the Timberwolves. However, with next year’s free agency period in mind, ESPN recommended that the Sixers could also prepare for next summer by trading Markelle Fultz, thus freeing up salary cap space for a maximum contract free agent.
As explained by ESPN’s Bobby Marks on Saturday, the 76ers will have cap space of about $21 million in the summer of 2019, assuming the team re-signs Butler and backup point guard T.J. McConnell and renounces all their other free agents. Per the terms of his contract, Butler has a $30.7 million salary cap hold, or the amount of money reserved to re-sign him once his contract expires at the end of the 2018-19 season.
“The 76ers would be close to adding another max slot if they find a home for former first overall pick Markelle Fultz,” Marks wrote.
According to USA Today’s Sixers Wire blog, trading Markelle Fultz and getting “very little” in return might not be in Philadelphia’s best interests, considering the second-year guard’s much-hyped status as the top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. However, it was also noted that making such a sacrifice could allow the Sixers to have not just three, but four All-Star-caliber players in place for the 2019-20 NBA season.
“The idea of a core featuring Embiid, Simmons, Butler, and another star is scary.”
Given his ongoing struggles to live up to his draft billing, Fultz’s development as one of the 76ers’ younger players can “[no longer be] a priority” once Jimmy Butler starts suiting up for the team, CBS Sports‘ Brad Botkin opined. He added that the improved chances the Sixers now have of representing the Eastern Conference in the 2019 NBA Finals is “bigger than any one player.
As of this writing, Markelle Fultz is still having a hard time finding his shooting form after shoulder problems limited him to just 14 regular season games in his rookie year. Currently, he is averaging 9.3 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game and shooting just 42 percent, including 31 percent from beyond the three-point line. Despite being listed as the Philadelphia 76ers’ starting shooting guard, his numbers pale in comparison to those of veteran J.J. Redick, who moved to a reserve role for the 2018-19 season, but is still averaging 17.4 points and 3.4 assists off the bench, according to Basketball-Reference.