76ers host the Spurs on ESPN Friday night, then Jimmy Butler in town with the Heat Saturday.
It should be quite a weekend at the Wells Fargo Center.
First, the 76ers host the Spurs on ESPN Friday night, then Jimmy Butler comes to town with the Heat Saturday evening.
After Wednesday’s 109-104 victory over the Knicks, I asked star center Joel Embiid if he would lobby to play in both and he replied, “I am playing both.” On Thursday, the Sixers said Embiid is expected to be available for both, but would re-evaluate him following the San Antonio contest.
Had the Sixers stuck with allowing him to play in one game of a back-to-back set — as they did earlier — it would’ve been interesting to see what would have happened.
Friday’s game is a nationally televised game against a sub-.500 team, while the Heat are 10-3.
Based on past history, Embiid typically played at home and rested on the road. But both are in South Philadelphia, which never happened last season.
Perhaps Embiid will end up being limited to, say, 30 minutes in each of the weekend games.
While Brown gets to coach against former coaching mentor Gregg Popovich Friday, Butler’s return to Philadelphia should bring a lot more juice to the Wells Fargo Center.
Philly fans will undoubtedly boo Butler for agreeing to a four-year, $142 million free agent contract with the Heat after a sign-and-trade swap, but it’s unclear if the Sixers offered him a max deal (five years, $190 million). Some reports say they did and others dispute that claim.
Yes, Butler has a reputation for being tough on teammates — just ask the Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns — and coaches, which he demonstrated again by challenging Brett Brown in front of his Sixers teammates during a film session last December in Portland.
Brown admitted Butler said he wanted more pick-and-rolls because they are better suited to his skill set, but denied Butler was out of line during the film session.
Earlier this month, Butler told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports “nobody knows what really went on in Philly and we’re going to leave it that way,” with the implication being something happened that had an affect on his decision to leave.
Asked to elaborate, Butler replied, “Just go with your gut. You’re not dumb. All of that will come out whenever it’s time. Right now is not the time.”
While bringing back Tobias Harris for $180 million over five years instead of Butler makes life easier for Brown and Ben Simmons, who doesn’t have to stand off to the side while Butler has the ball in his hands late in games anymore, the Sixers really miss Butler at crunch time. He isn’t afraid to take the big shot and hit more than a few (remember his game-winners against the Hornets, Nets and his clinching jumper vs. the Celtics?).
Meanwhile, Harris is performing more like a complementary player, which isn’t what you want from a near-max guy. On the other hand, Harris is a terrific teammate and a quality person.
After arriving in a February trade from the Clippers, Harris didn’t want to rock the boat and ended up deferring to Butler, Embiid, Simmons and JJ Redick. Butler and Redick left in the offseason and the Sixers need him to be more assertive, which he said he was looking forward to. It generally hasn’t been the case so far for the 9-5 Sixers.
Butler was the Sixers’ best player in the postseason, in part because Embiid once again wasn’t 100%. Butler was also a mentor and good friend to Embiid, and told Haynes that the two still talk nearly every day.
Re-signing Butler would have been risky given his penchant for being difficult. The Sixers acquired starting shooting guard Josh Richardson in the Butler trade and signed big man Al Horford essentially with what would have been Butler’s money, which was a sensible approach.
All three should be playing Saturday night when Butler can expect a noisy welcome-home greeting from the Philly faithful.
Tom Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org; @TomMoorePhilly