Jimmy Butler seemingly tries to recruit Joel Embiid to Heat via Instagram comments, Sixers star responds

The recruitment of superstars in the age of player empowerment tends to follow certain rules. While the process isn't an exact science, two things tend to be true in most instances: 

  • The two superstars haven't played together in the past. 
  • The recruitment takes place in private. 

There are exceptions to this, such as LeBron James essentially using the 2019 NBA All-Star Draft as a way to tamper without league-induced repercussions, but generally, the quick, quiet strike that united Kawhi Leonard and Paul George this summer was much closer to the norm. 

Jimmy Butler just blew those norms out of the water. Just a year ago, he and Joel Embiid both played for the Philadelphia 76ers. Butler willingly left to join the Miami Heat, while Embiid remained as Philadelphia's franchise player. On Monday, however, ESPN's Brian Windhorst suggested during his Hoop Collective podcast that rival teams were preparing for the possibility that Embiid would become available in a trade. Embiid, seemingly in response to this, posted the following on Instagram. 

Here's where things start to get really juicy. Check out the comments. You'll notice that the first name is a rather familiar one. 

This immediately rings quite a few tampering bells, but it's not as though this is the first time Butler has strategically used his Instagram account. In the summer of 2018, for instance, he liked a post suggesting that he would eventually team up with Kyrie Irving in free agency. So long as things stop there, the league can at least keep its head buried in the sand and pretend as if this was just innocent social media banter. 

That's not what happened. 

In record time, Embiid took to Twitter to try to squash the rumors that will inevitably sprout out of this situation. The problem? The picture that he posted in his message apparently meant to prove a commitment to Philadelphia... was taken in Miami. Look closely and you can even see Erik Spoelstra in the background. 

Let's make something clear: a trade of any kind for Embiid is unlikely, but especially so for Miami on a number of levels. 

As it stands right now, the Heat are incapable of trading a first-round pick thanks to the protections placed on the 2023 selection they owe the Oklahoma City Thunder. It would also be woefully impractical of a Miami organization that has owned free agency for the past decade to surrender the sort of assets an Embiid trade would take when they are primed for max cap space in the loaded summer of 2021. Pat Riley would surely love to have Embiid, but a chance to add Giannis Antetokounmpo without giving up any assets is more appealing for a variety of reasons. Finally, Miami already starts two players in Butler and Bam Adebayo that aren't 3-point shooters. It hardly makes sense for Embiid to join another team short on spacing, while Miami would likely keep Adebayo, a 22-year-old All-Star, out of any trade talks, Embiid or otherwise. 

Free agency isn't an option to reunite Butler and Embiid either. Embiid is under contract in Philadelphia through the 2022-23 season. By then, Butler will have just finished his age-33 season, and odds are, Embiid would have rather not hitch his wagon to a star of that age. 

The simplest way for Embiid and Butler to play together would have been for Embiid and Butler to have chosen to continue together last summer. They didn't. Butler left, obviously understanding that he couldn't take Embiid with him. While the two have gone to great lengths to assure the basketball world of their continuing friendship, they are surely both aware that playing together again is probably not going to happen. 

But the fact that Embiid engaged at all is telling. There is a grain of truth in just about every rumor that hits the mill, and while Embiid likely doesn't even want out of Philadelphia yet, posts like this indicate that he is at least unhappy with the narrative surrounding his questionable fit with Ben Simmons. Perhaps that spirals into something more serious down the line, but even if it does, in all likelihood, this is not a prelude to a reunion. 

Sam Quinn joined CBS sports as a basketball writer in 2019. Prior to that, he wrote for 247Sports and Bleacher Report. He is a New York native and NYU graduate who also has roots in Florida and California. Full Bio

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