In the mainstream NBA medias undying desire to create story-lines where none exist, the Jimmy Butler saga has earned a new chapter. The news comes as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne report that Butler had questioned Brett Brown over his role and usage within the team’s offensive system.
My major issue with this reporting is the very intentionally harsh word choice. The ESPN piece described the incident as Butler “challenging” Brown during a film review, which some witnesses described as “disrespectful,” as well as describing the Big 3’s chemistry as “tenuous.”
Of course, if you’re a part of the casual NBA fanbase’s hivemind who takes every headline at face value, your mouth is probably watering at the proposition that things are heading south for Butler and the 76ers. Except they aren’t. If you read any further into the article than the headline, you would understand that once again, there’s a whole lot of something being made out of a whole lot of nothing.
There are many reasons that I think this is entirely no big deal. First of all, Brett Brown himself said so. Per ESPN’s own article, “Brown has told people within the organization that he had no issues with that exchange and considered it within the confines of the relationship that he’s developed with Butler, sources said.” So Brett Brown did not believe the confrontation to be disrespectful, and very clearly finds it to have been within the informal rules of his relationship with the star Forward. If you ask me, Brett Brown’s opinion of the dialogue is more important than anyone else in the room.
The second reason this is a mountain being made from a molehill is that the team chemistry is not “tenuous.” Sure, Simmons, Butler, and Embiid aren’t clicking perfectly on the court. But it’s barely been more than a month since the trade, so of course there are still kinks to work out. The major sports media groups love to take conflicts of play-style and turn them into conflicts of personality and mentality. The Sixers have so few shooters that Embiid is being used to space the floor, and when he expressed disinterest in that, the media made it sound like he hates having Butler around and like things better before the trade. In reality, all he was saying is the change in the system have made him find different ways to get his shots off.
Another bothersome bit of word-play in this headline is the word “challenging” which carries a connotation that implies that Butler was questioning Brown’s authority or expertise, which clearly was not the case. Could it have been confrontational? Possibly, we don’t know exactly what happened. But more likely than not, Butler expressed some qualms about his plays and maybe went about it in the wrong way. This isn’t a bad thing, however.
One of the key reasons the Butler trade was a positive for the Sixers was bringing in a player with veteran expertise at multiple levels of play including the post-season. He’s played with a lot of guys, on multiple teams, and he’s seen a lot of NBA basketball. So I find it a gross over-reaction that people are describing Butler offering his opinion on a matter to his coach as a problem. Anyone who has ever been a fan of a LeBron-led team knows that player input is important.
Of course, this comes with the obvious assumption that such dialogue is productive, respectful, and within the bounds of the team’s culture. Is it possible that Butler violated some or any of those 3? Sure, but Brett Brown doesn’t seem to think he did.
More importantly, Butler must know as well as anyone that him getting the contract that he wants, as well as contending for titles, relies upon him having a constructive and open-minded relationship with Brett and the organization. I don’t see another team that’s in as good a situation as Philly is giving him the money he wants and the competitive future that he wants.
I for one was very concerned about team chemistry post-Butler trade. Since then, things have gone well, but I still have that itch in the back of my head that things could go wrong, and that worries me about it a little bit. Until then, however, as long as Butler, Embiid, Simmons, Brett, and the whole organization continue to be professional and engaged with their goals, there will be no problems. This whole chemistry issue, up to this point and most likely for a while, will be no big deal.