Even after advancing to the Conference Finals, Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler didn't miss the opportunity to heap some recognition and praise on his former teammate, Joel Embiid. Speaking to the media after the final buzzer, here's what he said about the MVP runner-up:
“I love him. I’m proud of him. I still wish I was on his team. I definitely love the Miami Heat, though. I'm glad that I'm here, but I got so much respect and love for Joel Embiid.”
Butler and Embiid were teammates for a short time during the 2018-19 season. There, they formed a bond that outlasted their tenure together on the floor. Had it not been for a falling out with Ben Simmons, Butler might still be in Philly today:
While Butler and Embiid bonded and have remained friends, Simmons became disenfranchised by Butler's playing and leadership style (via ESPN).
Both needed the ball in their hands, which pitted them against each other. Eventually it got to the point the organization felt it needed to choose between them, according to team sources, and it chose Simmons.
Only Embiid can speak to what it's like competing and falling behind 3-2 in this best-of-seven series to Butler and the Heat, knowing if an alternate set of decisions had been made in 2019, Butler could still be his teammate.
"We got rid of Jimmy -- which I still think it was a mistake -- just to make sure [Simmons] needed the ball in his hands," Embiid said last September. "That's the decision they made. Like I said, it is surprising."
As two of the most dedicated competitors in the game, it makes sense that Embiid and Butler have such a close connection. They're both winners with a love for the game.
It's a shame we'll never know what a real Embiid/Butler duo would look like, but watching them go toe-to-toe in the series has been fun. Maybe next year, Embiid will be the one moving on .