Last week, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne published an article detailing a heated conversation deemed “disrespectful” by a witness during a film session, wherein Sixers swingman Jimmy Butler confronted Brett Brown regarding his on-court role. The article went on to point out that Brett contends to have had no issue with the interaction, and merely sees it as a step in the growing process between the coach and his newest pupil. However, with Butler’s sordid locker room history a prescient piece of context, it’s hard to write off the report as wholly insignificant.
Immediately, the Woj bomb disquieted Sixers fans everywhere (mainly on Twitter), and they seemed to funnel mostly into two main camps at opposite extremes. It seems a worthy exercise to examine and give credence to both schools of thought, and then culminate with as best an educated conclusion as possible. Let’s dive in.
This is the beginning of the end, fire up the trade machine.
Without regard to this story specifically, Jimmy Butler's actions have repeatedly shown he cares about one thing: Jimmy Butler. He does it under the guise of "I just want to win," but that can't always be your excuse for blowing up everything around you.— Spike Eskin (@SpikeEskin) January 4, 2019
This contingent largely consists of the fans most nervous to acquire Butler, considering his past transgressions with other teams. To date, Jimmy has not left a team without incident or controversy. From taking shots at his younger teammates via the media in Chicago, to his boisterous, profanity-laden, infamous practice towards the end of his Timberwolves tenure, this group of fans sees last week’s film session outburst as just another piece of evidence that Butler is not a good teammate. They believe that prior to the trade, the Sixers were armed with enough data to suggest that Butler is ornery, confrontational, and erosive in every situation he’s played. This was simply confirmation that the Sixers traded for the same guy that those other teams couldn’t stand by the end. Some fans went so far as to theorize trade ideas so that the Sixers could rid themselves of Butler and his attendant warts prior to February’s trade deadline.
This was nothing, these things happen all the time, #teamchill.
yall let woj hypebeast and clickbait yall into believing jimmy butler is being a cancer again when the guy wanted the ball more and brett said he's gonna figure it out lol embiid did the same shit— Drew Corrigan (@Dcorrigan50) January 5, 2019
This segment of Sixers fans chalked the film room run-in up to nothing out of the ordinary for a contending team as it integrates an established star player. Disagreements — even heated ones — are the norm inside NBA locker rooms. The NBA is a business comprised of elite, talented, 20-something millionaires, each with their own egos and personal agendas. A player confronting a coach about his on-court usage would be a shoulder-shrugger (much less cause for a Woj bomb), if not for the player involved. Butler has become a target for members of the media as an easy punchline whenever the slightest turbulence arises on his team. Furthermore, some Sixers fans went so far as to call Woj on the carpet for making a story of this at all. The moment that Brett Brown proclaimed this a non-issue was the exact moment that this became a non-story. Moving on.
Now that we’ve soberly examined both sides of the issue, we can form a balanced conclusion about what happened, who’s culpable, and where the Sixers ought to go from here.
The answer, as it often does, lies somewhere in between these extremes.
Firstly, Woj and Ramona are not tabloid journalists. Woj, specifically, is considered an unassailable and reliable voice in the NBA media, and to disregard the report out of hand because you don’t like what it says nods more to homerism than analysis. I do believe that the story snowballed into a larger discussion about Butler’s long term feasibility in Philadelphia because of his reputation, but make no mistake: that reputation is earned. He should be held responsible for the mistakes he made in Chicago and Minnesota, and the sensitivity with which people now view his run-ins is the fault of no one else but Jimmy Butler.
Immediately theorizing Butler trades due to this story is, to me, a bridge too far. While he might not be the player he was at 25, Butler is still a very good two-way wing with ISO and pick-and-roll proficiency badly needed by this team in fourth quarters. Now, maybe there’s a chance that this story was a harbinger of fights to come, and by February, Butler will have tormented his coaches and teammates so ruthlessly that his only remaining confidants will be Sonny Hill and that old guy that sits next to the Sixers bench. But I’m not there yet.
Of course he handled it poorly, but Jimmy’s contention was warranted: he should be used in more pick-and-rolls. It is on Brett Brown and the rest of the coaching staff to find a way to ingratiate Jimmy in a way that keeps his stars happy and the Sixers in the win column. I have faith that this will happen, given the opportunity for the team to grow and evolve together. Trading Butler would be folding up shop on an extremely rare opportunity. You could sell him now for some effective role players who would help in the short term, but ultimately not get the Sixers to where they want to be. Zach Lowe put it best in his article on Thursday:
It’s not perfect. The fit isn’t perfect, Butler isn’t the perfect age or player, Brown isn’t the perfect coach in every facet. But the best decision for all parties involved is to give this pairing a true chance both on and off the hardwood. For the Sixers, it will mean learning to play a different way at times, by running pick-and-roll, allocating away some shots to Butler in the half court. For Butler, he is eventually going to have to learn that he needs players like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid to fulfill his championship dreams. He is going to have to learn to express himself without berating others, or else he will find himself on his fourth team in three years.
The spat aside, it may also be a worthy exercise to withhold judgment on the Sixers’ new core until the team has more than four good players. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯