Joel Embiid on Jimmy Butler: ‘I wish he was still on the team’

Kurt Helin
NBC Sports

After Jimmy Butler had issues in Minnesota with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins (and reacted by blowing up the Timberwolves’ season), there were questions about how Butler would get along with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons in Philadelphia.

Turns out, pretty darn well.

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Butler and Embiid formed a bond as they led the Sixers to a Game 7 against the eventual champion Toronto Raptors, a game the Sixers only lost because of an insane shot from the corner by Kawhi Leonard over Embiid. (Or, the Raptors got a lucky bounce if you’re viewing it through Sixers goggles.)

However, it turns out the bond wasn’t strong enough to get Butler to stay, he decided to take his talents to South Beach. Embiid wishes he would have stayed, he told Rachel Nichols on ESPN’s The Jump today (with the full interview coming Oct. 23 when the Sixers open the season).

“It was a big loss because me and him, we got to the point where we were really close – we’re still close. We talk a lot, that’s my guy, that’s my brother forever. I wish he was still on the team, because I feel like the relationship that I built with him could have gone a long way. When it was the fourth quarter, we knew the ball would either be in me or Jimmy’s hands. I knew I could count on him. This year it kind of changes around. Now other guys have to step up and I have to do more.”

That’s one of the big questions for the Sixers: Who has the ball at the ends of games? Embiid can get buckets, but he’s not a shot creator. Philly needs Ben Simmons or Tobias Harris (or someone) to step up and be the perimeter creator who can sometimes feed Embiid.

Even with the loss of Butler, the Sixers are one of the favorites to come out of the East. Embiid said they should right there, but he understands they have to fill Butler’s shoes.

“I think we should be up there. Obviously, we still have to prove ourselves. We lost a big piece in Jimmy, he did a lot of great things for us, but we should be up there. On paper, we got a really good team so now it’s on us to go out there and actually prove it.”

The Sixers are going to be really good, with one of the best defenses in the NBA. What that means next playoffs remains to be seen, but the Sixers have plenty of time to work out how to fill Butler’s shoes before then.

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