With one tweet by Shams Charania, the hole the 2-9 Washington Wizards have dug themselves in the Eastern Conference standings all of a sudden feels a little deeper.
The Philadelphia 76ers pulled off a stunning trade on Saturday to reel in four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler, and in doing so, added a third blue chip player to go with their already impressive core of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. If it wasn't clear already, the Sixers are serious contenders to represent the East in the NBA Finals.
The deal was surprising and will reverberate throughout the conference. There are other teams like the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics and maybe the Milwaukee Bucks who have a chance to reign supreme in the East, but the Sixers now have arguably the best three-player combination at the top of their roster.
To compete for NBA titles, it generally requires at least three All-NBA caliber players. The Sixers now have them. Regardless of whether they lost some depth in parting with Robert Covington and Dario Saric, they have a core capable of beating Boston and Toronto in a playoff series.
Any time a deal like this goes down, it's natural in these parts to wonder if the Wizards could have made a competitive offer. On the face of it, probably not, as long as they were operating with the goal of keeping All-Stars John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Parting with Wall or Beal would be short-sighted, as trading one of them for Butler would arguably be a lateral move and Butler can opt out of his contract after this season. If you were going to rent him, you would need to do so with a real chance of winning this year.
In Covington and Saric, the Sixers gave the Wolves two solid players on team-friendly contracts. Covington, an All-Defensive forward, is only making an average of $11.7 million per year through 2021-22. Saric, a solid scorer and rebounder, is due around $6 million total for this season and the next. They are two legitimate starters who are making a combined $13 million this season.
The Wizards' next-best player beyond Wall and Beal is Otto Porter Jr. Though he's about as good as Covington, he's making $16 million more this season and is due over $81 million through 2020-21. After that, they do not have a player as good as Saric on as cap-friendly a deal.
So, the answer is probably no, the Wizards could not compete with that offer. Philadelphia had the assets and struck a deal that could work out well for both sides.
Now, Philly does now have long-term questions with Butler's contract uncertainty. Like the Raptors with Kawhi Leonard, they are gambling that he will stay. And if he does, their roster could get very expensive in the near future.
But given the potential their team now has, Butler seems well worth the risk. They acquired an All-NBA talent and didn't have to part with one of their top players.
The Wizards, meanwhile, can only watch through their early-season malaise as the teams at the top of the conference get stronger. Philly just made a game-changing move to solidify themselves as contenders. The Raptors did the same over the summer by bringing in Leonard.
The Celtics will likely be better this season than they were last year if they stay healthy. The Bucks, now with Mike Budenholzer in charge, are making a leap.
The Wizards may someday have to do something aggressive themselves if they want to compete with those teams.
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