November 22, 2019
The Philadelphia 76ers' fortunes over the next five years will likely be measured against the turning point of this past offseason, when Jimmy Butler was shipped to the Miami Heat and the front office locked in deals for Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Ben Simmons.
Why Jimmy Butler wound up in Miami and not Philadelphia has remained a mystery. Butler recently told Yahoo Sports "nobody really knows what went on in Philly," but he's also repeatedly said he had originally requested Miami as a trade destination when he was still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It wasn't a shock to see Butler leave Philly, but his veteran savvy and leadership (albeit abrasive) were undoubtedly playoff ingredients the Sixers could find themselves missing, at least in the short-run.
Despite career-long questions about Butler's attitude and impact on team chemistry, it became abundantly clear that he and Joel Embiid formed a deep friendship by the end of last season. Embiid even stated that he wishes Butler had been able to stay in Philly.
The Sixers will meet the Heat for the first time on Saturday — the second half of a back-to-back, of course — and Philadelphia will have its first look at Butler since his departure.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Athletic, Butler spoke openly about his admiration for the team culture in Miami. He's happy there. The Heat are playing well. Things appear to be working out for him — so far.
Butler was asked why he felt such a strong connection with Embiid while he was in Philadelphia:
Because that mutha***** is special. For real. Any time I text him, which we text plenty, FaceTime, phone calls. I always tell him, ‘Continue to show why you’re the best player in this league.’ Because I saw it. I saw it. He can do everything. Like, legit, he can do everything. He works and I respect it. He works. And then he’s in the house. He’s with his girlfriend. That’s how you become the best player, you’ve got to be obsessed with it. And he is. He is.
I think the bond just grew from there, because he would always ask questions. We’d always watch film together. And yeah, we’d be joking around a lot, too. But he wants to do right and when he does wrong and you tell him, he’ll be like, ‘Yeah, you’re right. You’re right.’ I was like, you know what, you’re a real mutha*****. When somebody tells you you’re wrong, you’re like, ‘Yeah.’ And thinking about it, you’re like, ‘OK, OK, I see what you’re talking about.’ If somebody tells me I’m wrong, I’m like, you could be right, or maybe I could’ve handled that better. Like, ‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’
As Embiid continues to mature as a basketball player and person, it sounds as if he'll still have Butler around to discuss the game and life, just not as teammates.
Time will tell whether the Sixers made the right decisions this offseason. It'll be difficult for fans not to measure this against the success of Miami, to some degree.
As for Butler, he says he embraces his "bad guy" identity in the NBA and bears no regret for the way things transpired in Chicago, Minnesota and Philadelphia. A Sixers win on Saturday night would be a helpful first step toward putting the what-ifs to rest.