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Could Jimmy Butler add another challenger to East?

Could a Jimmy Butler trade end up making the Philadelphia 76ers’ path to the NBA Finals more difficult?

The Philadelphia 76ers and Dallas Mavericks, planning for their preseason matchup in China, held early media days last Friday. We got our first look (or listen) at the new members, with Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and the rookies all making appearances.

One storyline overshadowed the event, though, as Jimmy Butler‘s situation in Minnesota rapidly deteriorated. After meeting with Tom Thibodeau in L.A., it was officially announced that Butler is demanding a trade. Karl-Anthony Towns‘ recent extension cements Butler’s fate.

As one of the 15 best players on the planet, the market for Butler will be robust — even if he’s an expiring contract with a selective list. He can transform teams into legitimate contenders, and that includes the Philadelphia 76ers.

With that said, the Sixers might not get Butler. There’s also a chance that Butler goes elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, with Brooklyn, Detroit, Milwaukee, Miami and Washington listed among the teams looking to make a push. The Knicks are on his list, so they might pop in eventually.

If Butler were to come East, the Sixers will have to deal with the possibility of facing him in both the regular season and the postseason. An elite two-way talent, that could make their journey far more difficult.

Right now, the Celtics and Raptors are favored in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers are a close third, though, with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz all looking to take another step forward.

The Sixers will almost certainly have to face one of those teams in the conference semifinals. If Brett Brown’s squad advances, then either Boston or Toronto will presumably be waiting in the conference finals.

With that said, Butler could shake things up. Detroit and Brooklyn are intriguing options, although neither gives him the best chance to win games. Miami, Washington and Milwaukee could all take sizable steps forward with Butler, though.

The Wizards have the talent to be a top-four Eastern Conference team. Adding Butler’s all-out play and two-way production might finally boost them to that level. Both John Wall and Bradley Beal are special talents, even if their fit has been called into question in recent years.

The Heat would offer Butler and elite coach and an elite culture. We’ve seen Miami squeeze the most out of their players in recent years, and Butler would help elevate them to the next level. He gives them a some much-needed playmaking and shot creation alongside Goran Dragic.

The Eastern Conference team best positioned to challenge the Sixers — outside Boston and Toronto — however, is the Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo might be the best player in the Eastern Conference next season. Adding Butler forms one of the conference’s most dynamic duos.

Neither Giannis nor Butler are elite shooters, but that doesn’t really matter. The Bucks can manufacture spacing with Brook Lopez and Tony Snell. The only reason Khris Middleton isn’t included is because he’d probably be dealt in the trade.

For the first time in his career, Antetokounmpo is heading into the season with an elite head coach. After traversing the Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty eras, Mike Budenholzer alone will make the Bucks more competitive. Adding Butler to the mix puts them in the East’s top tier.

In addition to the offensive potential, Antetokounmpo and Butler is quite the defensive tandem. If the Sixers aren’t the team netting Butler, fans should hope Milwaukee doesn’t put together the best offer.

For a Timberwolves team that wants to compete, though, Khris Middleton would be an enticing asset.

Next: 3 reasons Sixers should pursue Butler

According to ESPN’s report, owner Glen Taylor wants Butler dealt before the team’s first practice on Tuesday. That means things will move quickly, so keep an eye on your news feed as the day progresses.

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