Just a few months after his trade request endlessly dominated headlines in Minnesota, Jimmy Butler has “aggressively challenged” Sixers head coach Brett Brown on his role in Philadelphia’s offense, league sources tell Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com. The situation has complicated an “already tenuous” chemistry among Butler and star teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, according to Shelburne and Wojnarowski.
Since joining the Sixers, Butler has averaged 18.0 PPG in 31.7 minutes per contest (21 games). Both of those marks would be his lowest averages since 2013/14. His usage rate (23.1%) is also down from recent years.
Butler would prefer to play more traditional pick-and-roll and isolation sets, rather than trying to find his place in the Sixers’ free-flowing offense, Shelburne and Wojnarowski write. As he works through those concerns, Butler has met privately with Brown and his assistants, as well as GM Elton Brand, per ESPN’s report.
Sources tell the ESPN duo that Butler has been “vocal” in questioning Brown and his system, including a recent film session in Portland that some witnesses viewed as “disrespectful.” However, Brown has told people within the 76ers’ organization that he had no issues with that exchange and considered it within the confines of the relationship he has developed with his new All-NBA swingman. As for Butler, a source close to the 29-year-old points out to ESPN.com that his direct style of communication can come off as combative when he expresses an opinion.
Despite posting a 17-8 record since acquiring Butler, the Sixers have been slow to assimilate the former Timberwolf into their system and have yet to find the perfect on-court role for him alongside Embiid and Simmons, which has caused some concern about his “long-term viability and fit” with the franchise, league sources tell Shelburne and Wojnarowski. According to the ESPN duo, Brown had already dedicated significant time working on the relationship between Embiid and Simmons, and incorporating Butler as well has compounded those challenges.
Still, the Sixers remain focused on making things work in this season and beyond. Ownership and management is also still very fond of Brown, so there’s an urgency around the organization for the head coach and his staff to stabilize the situation and get everyone on the same page, according Shelburne and Woj.
Since Butler will be a free agent this summer, he’d have an opportunity to join a new team if things don’t work out in Philadelphia. According to ESPN, his preference has been to sign a lucrative, long-term deal with the Sixers, who can offer more years and money than any other suitor, but it sounds like the club will need to get more comfortable with the fit before it’s ready to put that kind of offer on the table. Sources tell Shelburne and Woj that rival teams believe Butler will ultimately decide to meet with other teams in July, in addition to the 76ers.