76ers Rumors: Inside the Decision to Let Jimmy Butler Go in 2019; Ben Simmons' Role

Adam WellsMay 13, 2022

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 12:  Jimmy Butler #22 of the Miami Heat in Game Six of the 2022 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinals at Wells Fargo Center on May 12, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Jimmy Butler's comments after the Miami Heat's 99-90 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinals have once again brought up questions over his departure from Philadelphia. 

Butler, who spent most of the 2018-19 season with the Sixers after being traded by the Minnesota Timberwolves, was heard yelling "Tobias Harris over me?!" as he walked to the locker room after Thursday's game. 

Philadelphia signed Harris to a five-year, $180 million extension in the summer of 2019. Butler was acquired by the Heat in a four-team sign-and-trade on the same day Harris' deal was announced. 

In a Twitter thread about the situation that led Butler to Miami, Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports noted Ben Simmons was "not happy" being used off the ball during the playoff series against the Toronto Raptors. 

Yaron Weitzman @YaronWeitzman

3. Because of this, Sixers management was worried how Simmons would handle/react to having Butler around and monopolizing crunch-time playmaking duties for multiple years. Simmons never said "me or Butler." But Sixers were worried that it could one day reach that point

Then-head coach Brett Brown "made it clear" to Sixers management he would be OK if they re-signed Butler even though the two didn't get along, but the team was concerned they would probably have to move on from Brown at some point during the 2019-20 season because of how volatile the dynamic was. 

Even though Butler cited Harris as the main reason he wasn't brought back by the Sixers, Weitzman noted it was actually the Al Horford deal that is more crucial to the story. 

Yaron Weitzman @YaronWeitzman

7. The Sixers believed Embiid would miss at least 20 games/season, meaning they'd need a fill-in at center. And they felt Horford could do a good job defending Giannis in the playoffs.

Philadelphia signed Horford away from the Boston Celtics by giving him a four-year, $109 million contract 

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported at the time that Horford's agent "tried to do a deal in Boston, but the money was significantly less than the Philly deal."

The Horford experiment with the Sixers went awry almost immediately. He didn't fit well in the system playing in the same backcourt as Embiid. The five-time All-Star only averaged 11.9 points per game in 67 starts. He scored a total of 28 points in four games during Philadelphia's playoff loss to the Celtics. 

B/R's Andy Bailey named Horford's contract with the 76ers as one of the worst free-agent deals of the past 10 years in October 2020. 

Philadelphia acknowledged it was a bad fit by trading him to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Terrance Ferguson, Danny Green and Vincent Poirier before the start of the 2020-21 season. 

Simmons' role in the Sixers' decision-making about Butler certainly looks bad with the benefit of hindsight. He was traded to the Brooklyn Nets in February as part of a deal that brought James Harden back to Philadelphia. 

Harden completely collapsed in Game 6 on Thursday with just 11 points, including zero in the second half on two shot attempts. 

Butler has been fantastic in his three seasons with the Heat. He led the team to an appearance in the 2020 NBA Finals and the best record in the Eastern Conference this season. 

In the series against the Sixers, Butler averaged 27.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists. He scored at least 32 points three times in three of the final four games in the series.