The Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater that eliminated the Sixers from the playoffs in the spring and helped propel the Raptors to their first NBA championship was a sliding-doors moment for the league — and for star forward Jimmy Butler. Speaking to Michael Lee of The Athletic, Butler mused about what might have happened if Philadelphia had pulled out a win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in May.
“What happens if we win that game?” Butler said. “Do we win a championship? Am I in Philly? All of these ifs. Who knows?
“But you think about it. It’ll haunt you for the rest of your days — especially if you don’t get an opportunity — that you were that close. And then you’re like, man, one play, one possession, one anything and it easily could’ve been us winning that championship. If I ask you, who would you pick if we win that? You’d probably say Philly. Golden State is not healthy? I would say Philly. I don’t know many people who would say Golden State, if they’re not healthy.”
While it’s an agonizing what-if to consider for 76ers fans, that second-round loss ultimately opened up a path for the team to make some major changes in the offseason. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the parent of one member of the Sixers told higher-ups that team chemistry felt off in the wake of the end of the 2018/19 season, and improving that chemistry has been a priority this fall, with Tobias Harris and Al Horford frequently organizing dinners that many players attend.
Lowe doesn’t suggest that Butler was responsible for last season’s chemistry issues, but he does confirm that the Sixers didn’t make the 30-year-old a five-year, maximum-salary offer during free agency, as previously reported by Adrian Wojnarowski and Shams Charania. For his part, Butler has found a new home with the Heat, telling Lee that Miami “just fits” him.
“Basketball is great here, but the people here, what they expect of you on a daily basis. The level that they hold you accountable at here, is something that I respect,” Butler said. “It’s something that I really love — not just like, really love — because it’s about having good people and doing things the right way. Because when this basketball thing is over with, you’re still going to have to have those morals. And if you don’t have that, you’re in for a rude awakening.”
Here are a few more noteworthy quotes from Butler, via Lee, on his offseason decision, his new team, and one of his former teammates:
On not teaming up with a star to form a “Big Two” this past summer, as other players did in Los Angeles and Houston:
“It just wasn’t the way that it worked out. I’m not one to go with the trend anyways. I don’t do what everybody else is doing. I’m not saying that it’s bad, it’s good, it’s just I worry about myself, first of all. I worry about the people that I’m around. And then you move down the line. I mean, I don’t care who I team up with. Organizational-wise, this was the place for me.
“Now, if you get some other people that think like I think, that go about things the way that I go about it, this is the place for them as well. I don’t know. I didn’t talk about it. … I leave people alone and do what I’m going to do and that’s what I did.”
On the Heat’s upside:
“The ceiling is a championship. And I don’t care what nobody has to say. If the stars align, we can get it done. If we figure this thing out, we stay together, we get our defense on track, we get our offense on track, and we become top five in both categories, we right there. We right there. We’ve got an opportunity to do something special and we’re working at it every single day.”
On former teammate Joel Embiid:
“That m———er 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. … That’s how you become the best player, you’ve got to be obsessed with it. And he is. He is.”