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Sixers owner on looming Butler, Harris free agency: ‘We’re going to try to keep them’

Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook

Philadelphia 76ers guard Jimmy Butler goes up for a shot in front of Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)


If the playoffs started today, Philadelphia would host Boston in the first round. Which is great for viewers and terrible for those teams — one of them would go home in the first round. And considering the Celtics have had the Sixers’ number of late (Boston has won 9-of-11 meetings) that could be bad for Philly.

Sixers owner Josh Harris admitted to Jackie MacMullan of ESPN that would be very bad.

“It would be problematic... We’d be unhappy. I’d be unhappy. The city would be unhappy. We’re going to work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. We have enough talent on our roster that if we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can beat any team in the East.”

Even if the Pacers slip down the standings and the East’s big four teams — Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston, and Philadelphia — make it out of the first round, two of those teams are going home in the second round and will still see that as an early exit. It could have a massive impact on this summer. Does Kyrie Irving re-sign in Boston if they don’t make it past the second round? What about Kawhi Leonard in Toronto?

In Philadelphia, GM Elton Brand doubled down this season trading for both Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris — the Sixers are all in now. But can they afford to bring both Butler and Harris back — both will be max players — along with Joel Embiid’s new max deal and Ben Simmons’ coming soon? Harris has said all along that’s the plan, and he reiterated it to ESPN.

“We gave up a lot to get Tobias and Jimmy on our team,” Harris told ESPN. “We think they’re exceptional talents. We’re going to try to keep them. We know we are going to have to pay these guys in an appropriate way.

“We get it. It’s expensive.”

The question is, will they want to stay?

What happens in April and May will go a long way toward deciding that. For now, Harris is just poised with the checkbook.