Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat eliminated the Philadelphia 76ers from the playoffs on Thursday with a 99-90 win in game six of the eastern conference semifinals. Butler was excellent, he scored 32 points and grabbed eight rebounds. After the win as he was in the tunnel heading to the locker room, he had a question for the 76ers, more specifically a declarative statement in he form of a rhetorical question.
“Tobias Harris over me?!” Butler yelled twice accompanied with some expletives.
“Tobias Harris over me?!” Jimmy Butler didn’t hold back after eliminating his former team from the playoffs.
— Fox Sports 640 South Florida (@FoxSports640) May 13, 2022
Of course Butler is referring to the 2018-19 season when the 76ers acquired him from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Butler and the 76ers took the eventual champion Toronto Raptors to gGame 7 in the conference semis, only to lose on a Kawhi Leonard multi-bounce shot at the buzzer.
Butler assumed he, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris would run it back and push for a title in Philadelphia. But Butler and Simmons didn’t get along and management had to choose between them. They ultimately chose Simmons and sent Butler to Miami in a sign and trade. The 76ers also gave Harris a five-year, $180 million contract.
So technically, the 76ers chose Simmons over Butler, but his point stands. The 76ers would be in better shape today had they chosen Butler. A point Embiid agreed with following the tough loss.
“I still don’t know how we let him go,” said Embiid. “I wish I could go into battle with him.”
Not gonna lie, Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler sending love letters to each through the media is a pleasant departure from the politicking for fouls and suspensions we’ve seen this post-season.pic.twitter.com/sR9xvmy6bP
— Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid) May 13, 2022
The 76ers franchise is in shambles right now and this offseason will be critical in determining what the future will look like.
When the franchise elected to keep Simmons happy and move Butler, it was a continuation of a problem that started with former general manager Sam Hinkie and the “Trust the Process” era.
Simmons and Embiid were taken first and third in their respective drafts. The plan was clear. Build a championship contender around two young, big, and supremely talented players. The keys to the franchise were handed over to kids that hadn’t turned 21.
After injuries plagued them both early, they eventually took the floor together and began to show promise. But there were questions about their work ethics, commitment to winning, and professionalism.
Embiid started to turn the corner the year Butler arrived. But Simmons hadn’t made any major improvements in his game, although made his first All-Star appearance that same season.
When Butler came to Philly he was battling a media narrative that he was a bad teammate for the way he forced himself out of Minnesota. But time revealed the truths of that situation, and they were the same issues at the heart of the situation in Philadelphia.
Butler is a fierce competitor on both ends of the floor. A “dog” in NBA vernacular. He cannot deal with teammates who don’t put in the same level of work and commitment to competing and winning like he does.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins frustrated him to no end in Minnesota, as they have all the talent in the world. But they don’t compete, at least not the way Butler wanted. In those instances, Butler is not going to hold his tongue. He will be confrontational and abrasive to try and get his point across.
Everyone knows the story of how he showed up to his last Timberwolves practice, took the third-stringers, and beat up on KAT, Wiggins and the other starters. Trash talking and motherf****** them the entire time.
The 76ers felt that type of energy wouldn’t be good for Simmons. As it turns out, Simmons was traded this season, after a poor playoffs, for James Harden, a player with his own poor playoff track record who is a shell of his former MVP self.
Harden was awful in Thursday night’s elimination game scoring 11 points and taking only two shots in the entire second half.
The Heat’s PJ Tucker seemingly took a subtle shot at Harden while praising Butler’s ability to come through in big moments.
“He’s never scared of the moment. And that in itself is a talent because I’ve played with guys who are really good but when they get in those big moments, they shy away and they don’t really want it. And he wants every part of every moment. He’s not scared at all.”
Tucker on Jimmy "He's never scared of the moment. And that in itself is a talent because I've played with guys who are really good but when they get in those big moments, they shy away and they don't really want it. And he wants every part of every moment. He's not scared at all"
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) May 13, 2022
Seems like Philly made the wrong choice in 2019 and another poor choice in trading for Harden this season.
Joel Embiid is 28 years old and playing at the peak of his powers, and the 76ers have wasted another year of his prime. It is unclear how long he’ll be able to play at this level, given his injury history. Management is going to have to start making some better choices going forward.