Jimmy Butler praises Joel Embiid but lashes out at 76ers after eliminating former team: ‘Tobias Harris on me?’

Jimmy Butler praises Joel Embiid but lashes out at 76ers after eliminating former team: ‘Tobias Harris on me?’

After his Miami Heat ditched the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, Jimmy Butler said he still wishes he were Joel Embiid’s teammate. In Butler’s walk-off interview, ESPN’s Jorge Sedano asked what he said to Embiid after the buzzer.

“That I love him,” said Butler. “I am proud of him. Yes, yes, yes, I still wish I was on his team. I sure love the Miami Heat though, man. I’m glad I’m here. But I got so much respect and love for Joel Embiid.”

In his press conference after the 99-90 loss in Game 6, Embiid made it clear that the feeling was mutual.

“Obviously that’s my guy, that’s my brother,” Embiid said. “I mean it’s tough. But I’m so proud of him. He’s playing at an unreal level right now. He’s just something else. And I’m proud of him for being at this level and wearing them and what he was able to do.”

Embiid paid tribute to the Heat, their coaching staff and front office, then continued with Butler: “I’m happy for him. I’m not going to sit here and say I don’t wish he was my teammate. I don’t know how to let him go. But I wish I could have gone into battle with him anyway. But it is what it is. I just have to keep building and trying to achieve that goal.”

While praising Embiid, Butler offered some grievances about his former team. On Thursday, after Butler left the seat at the Wells Fargo Center, he wanted to remind the 76ers of their 2019 personnel decisions. The video showed Butler yelling “Tobias Harris on me?” as he entered the Heat locker room.

Butler and Embiid were teammates for less than a full season, and no iteration of the Sixers has been better since. On May 12, 2019, exactly three years before the Heat eliminated them in Game 6 of Round 2, they lost Game 7 in Toronto to Kawhi Leonard’s legendary four-bounce buzzer-beater.

This team’s five strong starters — Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Butler, Harris and Embiid — played just 161 minutes in 10 regular-season games but were downright dominant: 121.9 points per 100 possessions on offense, 102.5 per 100 on offensive defense. It had an even better point difference in 173 playoff minutes, but that’s about it. During the 2019 offseason, Butler made his way to Miami in a sign-and-trade, and the Sixers signed Al Horford as free agency.

Butler and Embiid were big thieves during their brief time together, and their team literally got as close as possible to defeating the eventual champions. In the 204 minutes that they shared berth in that seven-game streak, the Sixers outplayed the Raptors by 76 points, or 18.3 per 100 possessions.

Why did Butler finally leave? In a 2020 story for Bleacher Report, Yaron Weitzman reported that Philadelphia was concerned that Butler continued to clash with then-coach Brett Brown and his presence complicated things for Simmons — in the Toronto series, Butler became the main playmaker of the Sixers and relegated Simmons to a limited off-ball role on the halfcourt. Philadelphia were reportedly drawn to Horford because he could credibly defend Giannis Antetokounmpo and start in the middle when Embiid missed games.

In Game 6 against the Raptors, Butler scored 25 points, grabbed six rebounds and shared eight assists, while Simmons scored 21 points, grabbed eight rebounds and shared six assists. The Sixers won the game and it was easily Simmons’ best all-around game of the series. After that, ESPN’s Zach Lowe asked Simmons if he could spend more time off the ball at the dunker spot.

“It’s not about being in the dark because [my role] it’s definitely not that,” Simmons told Lowe. “I’m more valuable than that.” Simmons added that he had played there before and “just did more games from there tonight.”

Writing for Fox Sports last summer, Weitzman reported that Simmons was frustrated when Butler essentially became point guard and that management were concerned that Simmons would not handle it well if this continued, which played a role in the decision of Philadelphia played not to stay in the Butler Shop. In late September, after someone “with knowledge of Simmons’ perspective” told The Athletic’s Sam Amick that Simmons believed his partnership with Embiid had “ended,” Embiid confirmed previous reports of Butler’s exit, adding that he was with the Front did not agree with the decision of the office at the time – and still does.

“It was kind of surprising to see what was said,” Embiid said. “Even going back to why we signed Al. We got rid of Jimmy which I still think was a mistake but he needed the ball in his hands and that’s the decision they made.”

The same summer that Philadelphia lost Butler and Redick, Harris re-signed it to a five-year, $180 million contract.

There’s an extremely long list of what-ifs about the Sixers, spanning the six years since Embiid’s NBA debut. Even if they didn’t send Simmons to Brooklyn for James Harden after a trade request, and even if they didn’t lose to Butler’s team in the playoffs a few months later when they missed the conference finals again: “What if they had Butler to keep?” should be near the top.

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