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Sixers’ Joel Embiid is excited to play with Jimmy Butler, but says he’ll miss Dario Saric and Robert Covington

Joel Embiid on Dario Saric and Robert Covington: ""I miss them. I love them. I got to keep in touch with them."

Joel Embiid said he'll miss his former teammates.
Joel Embiid said he'll miss his former teammates.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

MIAMI – With Saturday's blockbuster trade, the 76ers are once again considered an Eastern Conference title contender.

But in doing so, they parted ways with two key pieces – Dario Saric and Robert Covington – from the team that was the league's worst team in 2015-16 and transitioned to a second-round playoff participant last season. The two starters here packaged along with reserve Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick for all-star swingman Jimmy Butler and Justin Patton from the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Patton, a 21-year-old center, had surgery in September to repair the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. He has played one game since being drafted 16th overall in the 2017 draft.

Joel Embiid touched on losing teammates Saric and Covington following Saturday night's 112-106 overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at the FedExForum. Neither Saric nor Covington played due to the pending trade.

"Dario and Cov gave us a lot the past couple of years," said Embiid. "I felt like we were starting to play really well together and figure it out."

The teams will likely execute the trade on Monday. Butler is expected to make his Sixers' debut on Wednesday night against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center.

Embiid added that Saric was finding himself again, after being marred in a shooting slump the first 10 games. The all-star center pointed out that Covington was an NBA first-team All-Defense selection who knocked down shots.

"I felt like we were starting to like really figure out how to play with each other," Embiid said. " But it's business. I got to move on, love those guys, wish them luck.

"I miss them. I love them. I got to keep in touch with them."

Embiid said he doesn't know Butler personally. He knows that Butler has a reputation of being a confrontational leader, but he's not bothered by that if it's used to elevate the team.

Nor is he bothered that Butler can be a ball-dominant player. That could affect Embiid's touches, shot attempts (18.9 per game), and scoring average (27.7).

"With the type of system we play, we like to move the ball," Embiid said. "It just goes through everybody's hands. So I don't think bringing in someone else takes the ball out of my hands or [Ben Simmons'] hands.

"We are going to figure it out. I'm sure he's coming here willing to fit in. So we are going to figure it out."

Embiid said he spoke to Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns and guard Andrew Wiggins, who both reportedly had strained relationships with Butler. They told him that he and Butler would get along because both players are determined to win. And Butler is the missing piece the Sixers have been searching for to pair with Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Wiggins and Embiid were college teammates at Kansas.

Butler, the four-time all-star and all-defensive second-team selection, was third in the league in steals heading into Sunday's NBA action at 2.4 per game. He's also averaging 21.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.0 blocks.

The Sixers (8-6) head into Monday night's game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena having lost six of seven games on the road.

Preseason, the Sixers were a favorite to contend for the conference title, but the expectation changed when it became obvious the roster wasn't capable of going far in the postseason.

They were outclassed in contests against  Boston, Toronto, and Milwaukee, thus far the conference's elite squads. All three games were on the road.

"He's a good player, obviously," Embiid said of Butler. "I think he's going to help us a lot offensively, especially defensively, too. He's one of the best defensive players in the league.

"So I'm excited to see where he takes us and how much better we are going to look."