ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said Tuesday that Jimmy Butler leaving the Philadelphia 76ers for the Miami Heat during the offseason has led to Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid being "unhappy" this season.
Appearing on ESPN's First Take, Smith discussed the dynamic between Embiid and Butler, and how Embiid liked the fact that Butler held him accountable:
The Sixers sent Butler to Miami as part of a sign-and-trade that netted Philadelphia Josh Richardson. While Richardson has been productive when healthy, the 76ers have performed well below expectations this season.
At 33-21, the Sixers are fifth in the Eastern Conference, and they trail the first-place Milwaukee Bucks by 13.5 games.
While Butler and Embiid were only teammates for part of one season, Butler apparently made a significant impression on Embiid, and the two became close during their time together, per Smith.
Butler is thriving as the Heat's go-to guy with averages of 20.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game. He was named an All-Star this season for the fifth time in his career, and he has Miami off to a 35-18 start after it went just 39-43 last season.
Embiid is putting up big numbers as well with 22.8 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.2 assists per contest en route to his third consecutive All-Star nod, but the Sixers are not playing like a championship contender as a whole.
The losses of Butler and JJ Redick have undoubtedly hurt, plus veteran big man Al Horford has not fit in as well as hoped.
Philadelphia has reached the second round of the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, but expectations were high entering 2019-20 thanks to a core of Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris with some solid complementary pieces.
If the playoffs started today, Miami and Philly would meet in the first round, and both Embiid and Butler would be at the forefront of things.
Despite his injury concerns, the 25-year-old Embiid is arguably the best young big man the NBA has to offer. While he reportedly isn't happy, he is under contract through the 2022-23 season, so there may be no end in sight to his time with the Sixers.