If Kawhi Leonard’s already legendary buzzer-beater takes a different bounce on any of its collisions with the rim, the 76ers could be in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 18 years.
When the tears cleared from Joel Embiid’s face, Philadelphia’s franchise player did not forget that.
After being bounced from the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year — Sunday’s Game 7 ousting marking the most painful way possible — Embiid quickly endorsed bringing impending free agents Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris back to Philadelphia.
Butler, 29, and Harris, 26, were both acquired during the season in a push to seize the LeBron James-less Eastern Conference, but both are strong candidates to sign max contracts, worth $190 million over five years, if signing with the 76ers. Other teams can only offer four-year deals for less money.
However, in two years, Ben Simmons also will be eligible for a max contract, meaning if all four stars are signed by the 76ers, the team would almost certainly be over the salary cap, solely via the deals of Embiid, Butler, Harris and Simmons.
“I want them here,” Embiid told reporters Monday. “They’ve done such a great job, and the best thing about them is they’re great guys on and off the court.”
After the Game 7 loss in Toronto, Butler said he hadn’t yet thought much about his free agency.
“You always want to be able to win. I think that’s key for sure,” said Butler, according to The Athletic. “You’re looking at coaches. You’re looking at the city. There’s a lot that goes in to it.”
In regards to coaching, Embiid is backing Brett Brown’s return.
Having finished his sixth season in Philadelphia — a tenure begun in 2013, when he was saddled with a rebuilding roster that won fewer than 20 games in each of his first three seasons — Brown, 58, has been rumored to be on the hot seat if the 76ers weren’t able to make a step forward in this year’s playoffs.
“The club can respond to that,” said Brown, when asked if he believed his job was in jeopardy.
Embiid did, supporting the only NBA head coach he’s ever had.
“I just thought it was bulls–t. He has done a fantastic job,” Embiid said. “I don’t think he should have anything to worry about. Amazing coach, better person, and obviously, I got a lot of love for him. If there was someone to blame, put it all on me.”
The 25-year-old star center, who battled flu-like symptoms during the second-round series loss, averaged just 15.3 points and 8.5 rebounds, while shooting 34 percent from the field during the four losses to the Raptors. Embiid averaged 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds, while shooting over 48 percent from the field this season.
“You can put it all on me. Don’t just put it on the coach or anybody else,” Embiid said. “I love when you guys or anybody else talk s–t. I see it all.”
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