Butler-Embiid Friendship Poses Longterm Threat to 76ers

Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

On November 12th of 2018, Jimmy Butler headlined a blockbuster deal that sent him to the Philadelphia 76ers. While his tenure in Philadelphia was brief, it was (and continues to be) immensely consequential to the state of the 76er franchise. 

In order to best display the full effects (both past and present) of Jimmy Butler’s career as a Sixer, we must first rewind to the conclusion of the 2018-2019 NBA Season.

Fresh off of a devastating playoff-elimination at the hands of Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors in game 7 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Philadelphia 76ers proceeded into that year’s offseason by committing one of the most egregious mistakes in the organization’s storied history. 

As every Sixers fan knows all too well at this point, that mistake was the front office’s choice to keep the pairing of Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris in place of Jimmy Butler.

With the 2019 NBA playoffs culminating in a disastrous second-round exit for the 76ers, Butler had made clear to the Sixers’ front office that he’d only return to the team if they chose to get rid of Simmons, Harris, and Head Coach, Brett Brown; all while extending him.

To further complicate things, Joel Embiid, the face of the 76er franchise, had developed a strong connection with Butler throughout the season. As such, Embiid had applied strong internal pressure on the Sixers’ front office to retain Butler.

Nonetheless, in typical 76ers fashion, the organization defied its superstar’s desire to play with Butler, and completely botched their ultimate decision.

The 76ers opted to go with Simmons, Harris, and Brett Brown. As such, they moved forward with a sign-and-trade deal that sent Butler to the Miami Heat in exchange for Josh Richardson. From there, the team used the money leftover from their sign-and-trade of Butler to sign Al Horford.

While it was never definitively reported, it’s more than reasonable to believe that Embiid was upset or even angered by the team’s decision to move on from Butler.

Now, fast-forwarding one year later to the 2019-2020 NBA Playoffs; the 76ers were swept in the first-round by their rival Boston Celtics after an extremely frustrating regular season. On the other hand, the Miami Heat were led by Jimmy Butler on a run to the NBA Finals.

While the Heat ultimately lost in the 2020 Finals, Butler’s remarkable performance throughout the playoffs provided more-than-enough evidence that the Sixers had made the wrong decision in letting him go.

As if Butler’s overwhelming success with the Heat wasn’t already bad enough for the Sixers, the season also ushered in Butler’s first public attempt at recruiting Embiid to join him in South Beach.

Fast-forwarding another two years, the 76ers still have yet to advance past the second round of the playoffs; having recently been defeated by Butler and the Miami Heat in the 2022 Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Taking place only minutes after eliminating the 76ers in Game Six of the series, Butler provided a bizarre on-court postgame interview.

Elaborating on his postgame message to Embiid, Butler said, “That I love him. I’m proud of him. Yes, yes, yes I still wish I was on his team. I definitely love the Miami Heat though man, I’m glad that I’m here, but I’ve got so much love and respect for Joel Embiid.”

Only a few minutes after Butler’s blatant pandering to the superstar, Embiid had an equally bizarre postgame press conference. Speaking of Butler, Embiid wondered aloud, “I still don’t know how we let him go.”

In the time since these two stars took each of their respective postgame press opportunities to indulge one-another, Embiid has tweeted, “Miami needs another star.”

Needless to say, this tweet has garnered equally enormous levels of both anger and concern among Sixers fans.

While it isn’t clear whether Embiid and Butler truly plan on reuniting at some point; we have frequently seen star players throughout the NBA force their way to different franchises in recent years. Furthermore, these situations are commonly set forward through social media pandering or “trolling”.

The 76ers have repeatedly been bitten at every possible turn since trading Butler away almost three years ago. With that being said, even after years of torment against the organization, Butler may not be done with his retribution tour against the Sixers. If the former Sixer is successful in his attempt to lure Embiid away to South Beach, he will have completely destroyed the franchise that he once suited up for.

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