MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Caught off guard by the Philadelphia 76ers’ blockbuster trade for Jimmy Butler, All-Star center Joel Embiid got in touch with two of the Minnesota Timberwolves’ young stars to seek their opinions on his new teammate.
While Butler’s final months in Minnesota were far from harmonious, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins expressed optimism to Embiid about the four-time All-Star’s fit in Philadelphia.
“They thought that he was going to be good for us,” Embiid told ESPN after a 112-106 overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. “They thought that we were definitely going to get along. He wants to win. Wiggs told me that he thought that we were going to win the East for sure.”
The 76ers and Timberwolves agreed to a deal that will send Butler and forward Justin Patton to Philadelphia for forwards Robert Covington and Dario Saric, guard Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe. A call with the league office to finalize the trade is expected to happen Monday.
Embiid said he does not have a personal relationship with Butler, who pushed his way out of Minnesota, telling Timberwolves management that he wanted to be traded days before training camp began. Embiid said he planned to text Butler on Saturday night.
Philadelphia star point guard Ben Simmons had a brief conversation with Butler on Saturday, coming away convinced that the swingman is “going to fit in” with the 8-6 Sixers.
“He said he just wants to win,” Simmons said before Saturday night’s game. “I think that’s the mindset we all have here. We’re excited to get Jimmy in here.”
Simmons said there is “a sad side to it,” referring to the departures of popular teammates who helped the 76ers advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals last season. Embiid was also hit hard emotionally particularly by the departures of Covington and Saric, key members of the Philadelphia starting five that had the best plus-minus of any lineup in the NBA last season.
“I miss Dario and Cov,” said Embiid, who told ESPN that he “almost teared up” after learning about the trade. “They gave us a lot the past couple of years. I felt like we were starting to play really well together and figure it out. Dario was finding himself again, and Cov is first-team all-defense, doing his job and knocking down shots. I felt like we were starting to like really figure it out and play well together.
“But it’s a business. Gotta move on. Love those guys. Wish them luck. I miss them, I love them. Gotta keep in touch with them.”
However, Embiid and Simmons both expressed excitement about the Sixers’ potential with the addition of Butler, who is averaging 21.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season, similar to the numbers he posted during All-Star campaigns the previous four years.
“You add another All-Star to the team, definitely,” Simmons said. “A guy like him who can come in, score the ball, veteran leadership, experience — he’s going to fit in here. Our culture is winning, playing together as a team and playing hard. I think he’s going to bring that.”
Added Embiid: “I think he’s going to help us a lot — offensively and especially defensively, too. I think he’s one of the best defensive players in the league. I’m excited to see where he takes us and how much better we’re going to look.”
Simmons acknowledged that the 76ers would go through an adjustment period after adding Butler — “Hopefully, it’s quicker than expected” — but he downplayed concerns about meshing with another ball-dominant player.
“It’s not going to affect my game,” Simmons said. “I know how to play, wherever you want me on the floor. But at the same time, I know what I’m good at, I know what I can do on the floor. Him coming in helps us, adds another scorer out there, another vet who can play the game the right way. He’s going to fit in with us.”
Embiid agreed, saying that the Sixers’ system emphasizes ball movement, so adding another scorer shouldn’t reduce his or Simmons’ touches.
“We’re going to figure it out,” Embiid said. “I’m sure he’s coming in here willing to fit in, so we’re going to figure it out.”
Simmons anticipates that the Sixers’ big three would develop chemistry based on a common bond.
“Between me, Jo and Jimmy, we all have that similar mindset,” Simmons said. “We hate losing. That pisses us off. We want to win.”
Butler has reportedly had chemistry issues with teammates with the Chicago Bulls and Timberwolves. Butler, 29, has developed a reputation for being particularly tough on young teammates who he doesn’t believe work hard enough or care enough about winning.
The 24-year-old Embiid and 22-year-old Simmons form perhaps the NBA’s most talented young tandem. They have also proved they can win, leading the 76ers to 52 victories last season.
Embiid, who embraces being the face of the Philadelphia franchise, said he won’t mind being confronted by Butler as long as it’s in the best interest of the team.
“If it’s something I should do and it’s going to make me better, then yes, that’s great,” Embiid told ESPN. “I want to win. I think everybody in the league knows that I’m a competitor and I want to win. … If it’s beneficial for me and for the team, then no problem. But if it’s something that I don’t think is going to be good for this franchise, then that’s not OK. I think everybody knows that I say whatever I want, whatever comes to my mind. I don’t have no problem doing that.
“But I’m excited having him. I think we can build something special. I’m excited to go out there and play and have someone else help carry the load. Hopefully, we make it to the Finals and have a shot at the title.”
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