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How Good Is The Sixers’ Brand-New Big Three?

For more than a month, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau had a common refrain when asked about the Jimmy Butler saga: The team couldn’t allow itself to be distracted by the dysfunction and the rumors surrounding their star swingman, who requested a trade before camp.

But after Friday’s loss in Sacramento — which left Minnesota winless on its five-game road trip — even Thibodeau came to the realization that things were unraveling too quickly this way, and that the club could no longer try and split the middle on this highly awkward situation.

As such, the Timberwolves on Saturday finally dealt Butler to the highly talented Sixers, while Philadelphia sent over Robert Covington and Dario Saric, a couple of solid players who can be part of the Wolves’ future while potentially helping Minnesota win right now, too1.

If there’s a significant takeaway here, though, it’s that the Sixers are truly going for it. In doing so, they’re sacrificing a considerable amount of depth, cohesion and patience, essentially cashing those in to land a third star. The Butler trade increases Philly’s probability of reaching the NBA finals from 11 percent to 16 percent in our projection system — a mark that puts them more in line with the Celtics (17 percent) and Bucks (18 percent), while still well behind the Warriors (67 percent) and Raptors (41 percent).

Figuring out Butler’s exact fit will take time for Brett Brown and his team. Ben Simmons is already one of the NBA’s best passers and one of the most physically imposing guards. Yet it could be a challenge to ask Simmons — all but allergic to attempting jumpers so far — to play without the ball more than he already does, while sharing the floor with fellow non-shooter Markelle Fultz. Butler is far better than Simmons at making an impact away from the ball, but he, too, is most comfortable when he has the ball in his hands. He was usually Minnesota’s best passer and de-facto point guard, while also calling his own number several times a game; especially in clutch scenarios.

Without Covington and Saric, the team loses two of its outside shooters, which figures to shrink the floor even more around Joel Embiid and Simmons. This could create problems for the turnover-prone club, especially in postseason, where the lack of spacing hurt the Sixers against the Celtics. (Also, while the addition of Butler could help take pressure off Embiid, there is a chance the shift could throw Embiid out of the incredible rhythm he’s been in lately.)

There are some ways that Philadelphia could circumvent the problem. Finding more time for JJ Redick, one of the league’s most reliable marksmen, is likely one solution. Whenever the Sixers use him in on- and off-ball screens, defenses have to account for his presence as a shooter. But most offensive adjustments with this new core will likely threaten playing time for Fultz — not ideal for the No. 1 overall pick from a year ago, who needs more true lead ball-handling opportunities in order to develop his game.

The bigger risks at play here for Philly are rooted in how they value Butler long-term, given that he’s a free agent after this season. He presumably wants a max contract worth $190 million over five years — a steep commitment for a player with so much mileage on his tires already.

If things were to fail spectacularly for some reason, the Sixers could simply let Butler walk this summer (a step that would be jarring, since they just gave up two good players). But it will be worth watching how Butler functions with cornerstones like Embiid and Simmons, since he’s had run-ins with younger teammates at his last two stops. Assuming the trio jells just fine, Philadelphia will again be an interesting team to watch in free agency, as they could create up to $19 million in cap space after signing Butler to a max deal.

As for the Timberwolves, our projection system feels they came out of this trade well, too. They went from a 35-percent probability of making the postseason before to 44 percent now. Just as losing Covington and Saric hurt Philly’s spacing, they should help Minnesota’s. The Timberwolves ranked just 22nd in 3-point attempt rate heading into Saturday’s game. (Our previous projections also accounted for the uncertainty around Butler’s situation, so having two solid players locked in for the rest of the season helps their rating as well.)

While this deal won’t fix the Wolves’ god-forsaken defense2, both players are under solid-value contracts, and leave Minnesota with far more flexibility than they would’ve had with Butler. The biggest challenge now rests with Thibodeau, who seemingly dragged his feet in pulling the trigger on a Butler trade in hopes of squeezing every win out of this situation he could, even as it became brutally clear that he needed to be dealt (Separately: While we know it likely wouldn’t have benefitted Thibodeau, can we definitively say that this offer is better than four future first-rounders from Houston?). Thibodeau could be on the hot seat, and the reality of relying mostly on youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins — each on max deals of their own — may not have given him the utmost confidence in returning to the playoffs.

The best-case scenario for Thibodeau and his young duo is that they do find a way to reach the playoffs with Towns dominating in a new role, as the team’s No. 1 option on offense without Butler.

But at the end of the day, we figure to be talking about this trade well into April and May — and possibly even June — because of what it could mean for the Sixers. If anything, this deal for Butler gives them at least a portion of the star power they sought this past summer.

Neil Paine contributed to this article.

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

Something Looks Weird In Broward County. Here’s What We Know About A Possible Florida Recount.

The Florida U.S. Senate race is still too close to call. According to unofficial results on the Florida Department of State website at 11:45 a.m. Eastern on Friday, Nov. 9, Republican Gov. Rick Scott led Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson by 15,046 votes — or 0.18 percentage points. We’re watching that margin closely because if it stays about that small, it will trigger a recount. It’s already narrowed since election night, when Scott initially declared victory with a 56,000-vote lead.

The changing margin is due to continued vote-counting in Broward and Palm Beach counties, two of Florida’s largest and more Democratic-leaning counties. On Thursday evening, the supervisors of elections in the two counties told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that vote counting there was mostly complete. Under Florida law, counties have to report unofficial election results to the secretary of state by Saturday at noon, but Nelson’s campaign is suing to extend that deadline. Scott’s campaign and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are also suing both counties for not disclosing more information about the ongoing count, and Scott called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Broward’s handling of ballots.

Unusually, the votes tabulated in Broward County so far exhibit a high rate of something called “undervoting,” or not voting in all the races on the ballot. Countywide, 26,060 fewer votes were cast in the U.S. Senate race than in the governor race.1 Put another way, turnout in the Senate race was 3.7 percent lower than in the gubernatorial race.

Broward County’s undervote rate is way out of line with every other county in Florida, which exhibited, at most, a 0.8-percent difference. (There is one outlier — the sparsely populated Liberty County — where votes cast in the Senate race were 1 percent higher than in the governor race, but there we’re talking about a difference of 26 votes, not more than 26,000, as is the case in Broward.)

To put in perspective what an eye-popping number of undervotes that is, more Broward County residents voted for the down-ballot constitutional offices of chief financial officer and state agriculture commissioner than U.S. Senate — an extremely high-profile election in which $181 million was spent. Generally, the higher the elected office, the less likely voters are to skip it on their ballots. Something sure does seem off in Broward County; we just don’t know what yet.

One possible reason for the discrepancy is poor ballot design. Broward County ballots listed the U.S. Senate race first, right after the ballot instructions. But that pushed the U.S. Senate race to the far bottom left of the ballot, where voters may have skimmed over it, while the governor’s race appears at the top of the ballot’s center column, immediately to the right of the instructions.

Sun Sentinel reporters talked with a ballot expert, who said that some voters may not have noticed the Senate race (perhaps thinking it was just part of the ballot instructions) and started filling out their ballot with the governor race instead. That theory is supported by a data consultant who’s worked for several political campaigns in Florida, who found that the parts of Broward County that fall in the 24th Congressional District did see higher levels of undervoting than other parts of the county. That might be because the 24th District was uncontested, which according to Florida law means that the congressional race did not appear on the ballot at all. As you can see in the sample ballot above, the congressional race would also appear in the lower-left corner on many ballots, along with the Senate race. In districts where there was no congressional race on the ballot, however, that corner would have looked even emptier, perhaps making it easier for voters to inadvertently skip over the Senate race.

An alternative explanation is that an error with the vote-tabulating machines in Broward County caused them to sometimes not read people’s votes for U.S. Senate. If that’s true, we would probably only find out if there is a manual recount. According to Florida law, any election that’s within half a percentage point (as this one currently is) triggers a machine recount; then, after the machine recount, if the race is within a quarter of a percentage point, it goes to a much more complex manual recount — a.k.a. each ballot is recounted by hand. As long as the machine recount doesn’t change the Senate results too much (barring a surprise in the remaining ballots in Broward and Palm Beach), it looks like that’s where we’re headed. In addition, Republican former Rep. Ron DeSantis and Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum are separated by just 0.44 points in the governor’s race, so that could go to a machine recount, too.

But recounts rarely change the outcomes of elections. A FairVote analysis found that the average recount from 2000 to 2015 shifted the election margin by an average of just 0.02 percentage points. The largest margin swing was 1,247 votes — coincidentally also coming in Florida, in the 2000 presidential race. If Nelson is going to stage a comeback in the Sunshine State, he’ll almost certainly have to close the gap between him and Scott even more in the next couple of days.

President Trump to pull US from Russia missile treaty

A Russian missile is fired during military exercises Image copyright EPA
Image caption Russia denies building missiles that violate the accord

The US will withdraw from a landmark nuclear weapons treaty with Russia, President Donald Trump has confirmed.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Trump said Russia had “violated” the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.

The deal banned ground-launched medium-range missiles, with a range of between 500 and 5,500km (310-3,400 miles).

The US would not let Russia “go out and do weapons [while] we’re not allowed to”, Mr Trump said.

“I don’t know why President [Barack] Obama didn’t negotiate or pull out,” the president said after a campaign rally in Nevada. “They’ve been violating it for many years.”

In 2014, President Obama accused Russia of breaching the INF after it allegedly tested a ground-launched cruise missile. He reportedly chose not to withdraw from the treaty under pressure from European leaders, who said such a move could restart an arms race.

A Russian foreign ministry source said the US move was motivated by a “dream of a unipolar world” where it is the only global superpower, state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

‘A significant setback’

Analysis by BBC defence and diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Concern about Russia’s development and deployment of a missile system that breaches the INF treaty predates the Trump administration. But the president’s decision to walk away from the agreement marks a significant setback for arms control.

Many experts believe that negotiations should have continued to try to bring the Russians back into compliance. It is, they fear, part of the wider unravelling of the whole system of arms control treaties that helped to curb strategic competition during the Cold War.

Other factors too may have played into President Trump’s decision. This was a bilateral treaty between Washington and Moscow. China was free to develop and deploy intermediate range nuclear missiles. Some in the Trump administration feel that the INF treaty places them at a growing disadvantage in their developing strategic rivalry with Beijing .

The US insists the Russians have, in breach of the deal, developed a new medium-range missile called the Novator 9M729 – known to Nato as the SSC-8.

It would enable Russia to launch a nuclear strike at Nato countries at very short notice.

Russia has said little about its new missile other than to deny that it is in breach of the agreement.

Analysts say Russia sees such weapons as a cheaper alternative to conventional forces.

The New York Times reported on Friday the US was considering withdrawing from the treaty in a bid to counter China’s expanding military presence in the western Pacific.

The country was not a signatory of the deal, allowing it to develop medium-range missiles without restraint.

National Security Adviser John Bolton is expected to tell the Russians of the withdrawal during talks in Moscow later this week.

What is the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty?

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan signed the INF treaty in 1987
  • Signed by the US and the USSR in 1987, the arms control deal banned all nuclear and non-nuclear missiles with short and medium ranges, except sea-launched weapons
  • The US had been concerned by the Soviet deployment of the SS-20 missile system and responded by placing Pershing and Cruise missiles in Europe – sparking widespread protests
  • By 1991, nearly 2,700 missiles had been destroyed. Both countries were allowed to inspect the others installations
  • In 2007, Russian president Vladimir Putin declared the treaty no longer served Russia’s interests. The move came after the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002

The last time the US withdrew from a major arms treaty was in 2002, when President George W Bush pulled the US out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned weapons designed to counter ballistic nuclear missiles.

His administration’s move to set up a missile shield in Europe alarmed the Kremlin, and was scrapped by the Obama administration in 2009. It was replaced by a modified defence system in 2016.

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Jamal Khashoggi case: Saudi Arabia says journalist killed in fight

Jamal Khashoggi Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption This is the first time Saudi Arabia has admitted the death of Jamal Khashoggi

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a fight in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the country’s state TV reported quoting an initial probe.

It said deputy intelligence chief Ahmad al-Assiri and Saud al-Qahtani, senior aide to Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, were dismissed over the affair.

US President Donald Trump said what had happened was “unacceptable” but that Saudi Arabia was a “great ally”.

This is the first time the kingdom has admitted Mr Khashoggi has died.

The acknowledgement follows two weeks of denials that Saudi Arabia had any involvement in the disappearance of the prominent Saudi critic when he entered the consulate in Istanbul on 2 October to seek paperwork for his upcoming marriage.

The Saudi kingdom had come under increased pressure to explain Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance after Turkish officials said he was deliberately killed inside the consulate, and his body dismembered.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Turkish forensic investigators have already searched the Saudi consulate and consul’s residence

On Friday, Turkish police widened their search from the consulate grounds to a nearby forest where unnamed officials believe his body may have been disposed of.

Observers are questioning whether Riyadh’s Western allies will find the Saudis’ account of a “botched rendition” convincing – and whether it will persuade them not to take punitive action against Saudi Arabia.

‘This is only a first step to the truth’

Analysis by BBC Security Correspondent Frank Gardner

The Saudi leadership will now be hoping that its belated admission that Khashoggi did die after all inside its consulate – coupled with a handful of sackings and arrests – will be enough to draw a line under this affair. It won’t.

This is only a first step towards publicising the truth of what really happened. Given the days of indignant denials by the Saudi leadership it’s doubtful we would have even got this far without sustained international pressure.

There can only be one of two possible alternatives here. Either – as many suspect – the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was to blame, or he had lost control of his inner circle, something most observers find hard to believe.

MBS, as he’s known, has a huge following amongst young patriotic Saudis who see him as a visionary reformer. If that support were now to ebb away then the crown prince could find himself dangerously isolated at court.

What is Saudi Arabia’s version of events?

A statement from Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said a fight broke out between Mr Khashoggi, who had fallen out of favour with the Saudi government, and people who met him in the consulate – ending with his death.

The investigations are still under way, it said, and 18 Saudi nationals have been arrested. The Saudi authorities have yet to give evidence to support this version of events.

State media said Saudi King Salman had ordered the sacking of two senior officials.

Saud al-Qahtani is a prominent member of the Saudi Royal Court and adviser to Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Image copyright Twiiter/@suadq1978
Image caption Saud al-Qahtani has over a million followers on Twitter

Major-General Ahmed al-Assiri has acted as the top spokesman for the kingdom about the war in Yemen.

Gen Assiri spoke to the BBC in 2017 about the conflict, defending Saudi Arabia’s actions.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionNawal Al-Maghafi speaks to Major-General Ahmed al-Assiri

King Salman has also reportedly ordered the formation of a ministerial committee, headed by Crown Prince Mohammed, to restructure the intelligence services.

Saudi Arabia said it had acted on information provided by Turkish authorities as part of its inquiry, investigating a number of suspects.

How did Trump react?

President Trump said the arrests were an important “first step”. He praised the kingdom for acting quickly, and while he said sanctions were an option against the country, he spoke of the possible effect such moves would have on the US economy.

Asked if he found Saudi Arabia’s version of events credible, he replied, “I do.”

He stressed the importance of Saudi Arabia as a counterbalance to Iran in the Middle East, and pushed back against the need for sanctions against the country in light of the new information, talking about the effect of such a move on the US economy.

He spoke of his visit to Saudi Arabia – his first trip abroad as president – and the $110bn (£84bn) arms deal he signed with the kingdom.

“I’d rather keep the million jobs [in the US] and find another solution,” he said.

Earlier this week Mr Trump said there would be “very severe” consequences if Saudi Arabia was proved to have killed the journalist.

The White House said in a separate statement the US was “deeply saddened” to hear confirmation of Mr Khashoggi’s death.

US Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican highly critical of the Saudis, said he was “sceptical” of the report on the journalist’s death.

Why does Turkey say he was murdered?

Turkish officials believe Mr Khashoggi was killed by a team of Saudi agents inside the consulate, and his body then removed – and they say they have video and audio evidence to back this up.

Saudi Arabia has denied this, and initially insisted Mr Khashoggi had freely left the embassy.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionCCTV footage shows missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul

Turkish newspapers with close links to the government have published gruesome details of the alleged audio, including what they describe as the sounds of screams and Mr Khashoggi being interrogated and tortured.

Meanwhile, Turkish media say they have identified a 15-member team of suspected Saudi agents who flew into and out of Istanbul on the day of the disappearance.

Jamal Khashoggi disappearance: The key events

2 October

  • 03:28: A private jet carrying suspected Saudi agents arrives at Istanbul airport. A second joins it late afternoon
  • 12:13: Several diplomatic vehicles are filmed arriving at the consulate, allegedly carrying some of the Saudi agents
  • 13:14: Mr Khashoggi enters the building, where he is due to pick up paperwork ahead of his marriage
  • 15:08: Vehicles leave the consulate and are filmed arriving at the nearby Saudi consul’s residence
  • 21:00: Both jets leave Turkey by 21:00

3 October

  • Turkish government announces Mr Khashoggi is missing, thought to be in the consulate

4 October

  • Saudi Arabia says he left the embassy

7 October

  • Turkish officials tell the BBC they believed Mr Khashoggi was killed at the consulate. This is later strongly denied by Saudi Arabia

13 October

15 and 17-18 October

  • Forensic teams carry out searches of consulate

20 October

  • Saudi state TV reports an initial investigation shows Jamal Khashoggi died in the consulate
  • Two Saudi senior officials are dismissed and King Salman announces the formation of a ministerial committee to restructure the intelligence services

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Scientists prepare for expedition to the world’s deepest depths

(Reuters) – For the first time, humans will visit the deepest part of each of the five oceans, plunging to the sea floor using a two-person craft designed to withstand the intense pressures more than 5.5 miles (9 km) below the surface.

The project, known as Five Deeps Expedition, will use a special submersible vehicle that took more than three years to build. It is made of titanium and other special materials that can dive to the bottom of the ocean, said Victor Vescovo, an explorer who will pilot the vehicle after it leaves its supporting boat and descends toward the deepest parts of the ocean.

“I’m very much looking forward to pushing not only the limits of the technology and myself and my crew, but also hopefully push humanity forward a little bit in terms of our understanding of our world and showing what we can do as a species,” said Vescovo, who has climbed the world’s seven highest mountain peaks and trekked to both the North and South Poles.

The maker of the submersible vehicle, Triton Submarines LLC of Vero Beach, Florida, said on the company website that it is the only submersible certified to carry humans on dives of 36,000 feet (11,000 meters). Discovery and Science Channel will capture the entire mission for a project known as “Deep Planet” that will air in 2019.

Reporting by Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York; Editing by David Gregorio