The day before the Sixers’ season opener, general manager Elton Brand wasn’t pretending his team was title contenders.
“Honestly, I say we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’re not where I want to be right now. I’m not sure what the players feel about that. I know coach wants to see more growth and improvement. We have a lot to work on.”
Saturday, he showed he wasn’t satisfied with merely being one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. He wants the Sixers to be playing basketball in June, and he made a bold move to try to get his team closer to that goal.
Brand’s trade for Jimmy Butler officially moves the Sixers into the final stage of The Process. After the Sixers patiently built up valuable assets and nurtured two of the best young players in basketball in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, development is now obviously a low priority for Brand.
While the Sixers managed to acquire Butler without giving away Markelle Fultz, the trade suggests Brand didn’t want to wait for Fultz to become the third star the Sixers hoped he could eventually become when they drafted him No. 1 overall.
Fultz has made 29 percent of his jump shots and 62.1 percent of his free throws in the Sixers’ first 13 games. His shot looks better than the hesitant, broken version that marred his rookie season, but that’s not saying much. He has a long way to go before he’s a valuable NBA starter, let alone a star.
Saric and Covington are both good NBA players. Though Saric started the season in a slump, his toughness and grit were huge pieces of the Sixers’ personality. And when he was knocking down perimeter shots at the rate he did last season, the Sixers were tough to stop.
Covington is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. On the 14.8 field goal attempts he’s defended per game, opponents are shooting 35.8 percent. That’s the lowest of any player defending at least 13 shots per game by a wide margin. He was often maligned in Philadelphia, but his three-point shooting and defense were integral to the team. When Covington played well, the Sixers usually won.
Butler, however, is a bona fide star, a four-time All-Star and one of the best two-way players in basketball.
If the Sixers didn’t land Butler, there weren’t many other realistic, big-name options. It didn’t seem likely that Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant were coming to Philadelphia in free agency. After the Sixers struck out on Leonard and LeBron James this offseason, Brand was determined to get a third piece to complement Simmons and Embiid, who is quickly emerging as an MVP candidate.
The fit may not be perfect, but Brand, less than a month into his first season as an NBA GM, got the third star the Sixers have been searching for.
On draft night, Brett Brown famously said, “We are star hunting, or we are star developing. That’s how you win a championship.”
Though the star developing part isn’t over, it’s clearly taken a back seat. Brand was hunting for a star — he wasn’t willing to wait and see if one eventually blossomed from within.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.