Joel Embiid is upset – and Jimmy Butler may be partially responsible.
The Philadelphia 76ers’ center has struggled over the last few games, citing the team’s adjusted offensive strategy since acquiring Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I haven’t been myself lately, I think it’s mainly because of the way I’ve been used, which is I’m being used as a spacer, I guess, a stretch-5, which I’m only shooting  percent,” Embiid said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, referring to his struggles shooting from three-point range.
“But it seems like the past couple games, like with the way I play, our setup, (76ers head coach Brett Brown) always has me starting on the perimeter … and it just really frustrates me.”
The All-Star big man also downplayed the possibility that he missed the 76ers game against the Detroit Pistons on Friday night due to fatigue or injury.
“My body feels great, and it’s just I haven’t been playing well.”
Embiid, who was playing at an MVP level before the Butler trade, has seen his production dip recently, shooting 14-42 from the floor and 1-9 from beyond the arc in the last three games.
Prior to the 76ers acquiring Butler, Embiid was averaging 28.2 points per game and sinking 48 percent of his shots. Since Butler has joined the team, Embiid is making only 43.1 percent of his shots and averaging nearly 4.5 less points per game.
NBA lineups often struggle to gel after acquiring a ball-dominant star like Butler, though the 76ers have won ten out of thirteen games since trading away Dario Saric and Robert Covington for him in November. If Embiid’s comments seem to be coming at an unusual time, it’s because they are.
It’s worth remembering that Butler has a reputation for being a difficult teammate to play alongside. While Ben Simmons and Butler seem to have forged a strong bond through the power of headbands, Embiid expressing his frustrations this early into Butler’s tenure doesn’t bode well for the team’s future or their chemistry. If Butler finds his relationship with Embiid similar to the one he had with Wolves center Karl Anthony-Towns, he may opt to sign elsewhere when his contract expires in the summer.
However, when asked about Embiid’s comments, Butler responded with an understanding tone.
“I know where his heart is, man. His heart is pure. He wants to win.” Butler said. “I can feel for him. It’s new to myself, it’s new to him, it’s new to everybody. But we’re okay. I know he wants to win. He wanted to play [against the Pistons]. Coach didn’t let him play. We need him long-term. He’s needed rest. He’s been doing a lot on both ends of the floor for this team. He’s our best player. I can understand being frustrated. He’s a hell of a player, and we’re figure out ways to make sure he’s always successful.”
Though Embiid may be struggling of late, it’s up to Brett Brown to find a way to get his two All-Stars to mesh with one another and keep the Sixers winning. After what has been a tumultuous year off the court in Philadelphia to say the least, any turmoil making its way onto the court is far from welcome. If the Sixers want to get past the surging Toronto Raptors in the East, they’ll need to get the most out of their big three.