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Jimmy Butler discusses Brett Brown, Sixers leadership issues, and why he left Philadelphia

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Butler shared his thoughts on his time with the Sixers in an interview with his former teammate JJ Redick.

Eastern Conference Semifinals - Toronto Raptors v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Jimmy Butler doesn’t hold back when sharing his opinion. This was the case in his recent appearance on the The JJ Redick Podcast, hosted by his former Philadelphia 76ers teammate. Butler discussed a range of Sixers topics, from his issues with a lack of clear leadership on the team, to Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater to eliminate Philly from the 2019 playoffs, to his eventual departure from the team in free agency.

Leadership issues

Possibly the biggest takeaway from the conversation was how strongly Butler spoke about leadership issues on the team, and how he “didn’t know who the f**k was in charge”. Butler said the following when Redick asked him if last year in Philly was difficult:

“Hell yeah, it was difficult. It was so different, and on any given day, me as a person, as a player, I didn’t know who the f**k was in charge. I think that was my biggest thing. I didn’t know what the f**k to expect whenever I would go into the gym, whenever I’d go into the plane, whenever I’d go into the game. I was like: ‘Man.’ I think I was as lost as the next motherf**ker.” ...

“There was so much going on on every given day, I was like yup, guess I’m just here to work I didn’t know who to talk to.”

Team meetings and film sessions

Butler had more to say about a lack of leadership, from the team’s coaching to the engagement of players, which has been a popular concern for many when wondering what the off-court state of the team is like.

Butler addressed this, referring to the well-covered film session in Portland and another meeting with the team’s top players beforehand:

Redick: “When did you realize [you didn’t know who to talk to]?”

Butler: “In that f**king meeting in the office, I told you that!”

Redick: “So Brett brings me, [Joel Embiid], and [Ben Simmons], this is pre Tobias [Harris] trade.”

Butler: “And we are all sitting in there and nothing got accomplished at all. So I was like, and I told you this when I walked out, ‘JJ why would I ever go back in there again? Nothing is getting accomplished, nobody is saying nothing to anybody and we just sitting in here watching film,’ and you can literally hear the thing just clicking and we are all just looking around.

“Now I may have just been 2 or 3 weeks there tops. So you know what, I’m sitting back and I’m watching, I ain’t saying nothing because don’t nobody know me like that. If you go by what you read what do you think about me? I am sitting there relaxing, these guys think I’m an asshole anyways, let me be quiet. I am hearing the click click, looking around. Click, click. ‘Alright guys, let’s go practice.’ Why did we just go through this? That’s literally what’s going on in my head. So I come to you, I say ‘JJ, why would I go back in there again? We didn’t do nothing. Nothing got accomplished.’”

And as for the film session in Portland:

Butler: “So now we fast forward to how many weeks is over there and we are in Portland and then that happens during the film session because once again, wasn’t nobody saying nothing. So who was the individual who decided to finally say something?”

Redick: “Here’s the f**ked up part. You did one thing wrong. Nothing you said about the team was wrong, I thought your interaction with Brett that day was a normal interaction I don’t know why it got reported the way it did. You were coming off whatever happened in Chicago and whatever happened in Minnesota, I get it. Nothing was weird, but basically he was like, ‘There are some tweaks to the offense I think some other guys feel the same way,’ and who did he throw under the bus? You threw the nicest guy under the bus. You threw TJ McConnell under the bus!”

Butler: “I did not throw him under the bus, I did not say his name! I did not say that. This is what I did. I did not say TJ. [Brett Brown] said, ‘Who all feels a type of way about it?’ Now keep in mind, everyone comes and talks to me because they know I am not afraid to be the asshole. So obviously I talked to [TJ]. Brett asked a great question, ‘Who else feels a type of way about something?’ All I did, I didn’t hear nothing behind me, I just knew somebody was going to speak up because I talked to about five people… crickets.

“So I turned around the first person I just happened to lock eyes with was TJ. So, [assistant coach] Monty [Williams] goes, ‘Yo for real, now’s the time.’ TJ was like ‘Now you know...’ and I was like, ‘TJ say what you got to say.’ And I love TJ, I talk to TJ all the time, but I just feel like it’s OK to speak your mind, ain’t nothing wrong with it. The worst thing Brett could have said is, ‘F**k you, no,’ and then you go back to being quiet. At least you got to say what you wanted to say.”

As Redick said during the podcast, he felt the interaction between Butler and Brown was perfectly normal. Brown himself said at the time that he didn’t have an issue with it either. So when considering everyone’s account of the situation, it does feel like it may have been blown out of proportion by some people at the time.

Nevertheless, when considering everything from the lack of energy and vocal leadership Butler described here, to not feeling like he knew who was in charge on a daily basis (whether that’s from a coaching or player perspective, or both), it doesn’t reflect well on the Sixers.

When Redick mentioned later in the podcast that he loves Brown and that he knows Butler’s relationship wasn’t the same, Butler didn’t hesitate to clarify that it “sure was not!”.

Offensive changes in the playoffs

Butler also talked about his issue with how heavily the Sixers changed their offensive approach in the second round of the playoffs against the Toronto Raptors. Specifically, taking the ball out of Ben Simmons’ hands more to give Butler a larger role leading the offense. While Butler said he told Brett that he should handle the ball a bit more, he didn’t think it was right to change Simmons’ role to that extent:

“I would say it was professional, but to this day I don’t think that was fair to switch over like that. Even though we played great basketball like that, I don’t think it was fair because the entire year, Ben had the ball. The entire year, Ben had the ball.

“So you mean to tell me that in one playoff series you just switch it up like that? I would be — like he was — I would feel a type of way. I would feel a type of way, I would think it’s fucked up to play one way the entire year and then be like you know what, boom, this is how we’re going to do it.

“And I used to tell Brett, I was like Brett, I think we should mix in me handling the ball a little bit. ‘No, we do A-to-B, we do this.’ Cool! But I would be pissed, and I’m not going to complain about it, but I don’t think that was the best way of doing it, in my opinion.”

At the time, this stylistic change worked for the Sixers. Butler was playing brilliantly for the most part and Simmons was having a hard time finding as much success on the ball whenever Leonard was defending him.

Why Butler left in free agency

The last key topic covered by Butler and Redick was why Butler decided to leave Philadelphia last summer. The biggest problem Butler had was with the idea that some on the team felt he needed to be controlled:

“Somebody told me a main reason that I didn’t go back was because somebody asked: ‘Can you control him?’ Like: ‘Can you control Jimmy? If you can control Jimmy, we would think about having him back.’ I was like: ‘You don’t gotta worry about it. S**t, can’t nobody f**king control me.’

“For one, I ain’t just out there doing no bulls**t, but the fact that you’re trying to control a grown man? Naw, I’m cool. Because I don’t do nothing that’s just drastically f**king stupidly crazy. I do not do that. So, don’t sit here and come at me with the: ‘Oh, we gotta try to control him.’ Nah, you good. Don’t even worry about it. ... You ain’t gotta worry about me coming. If that’s what y’all worried about, if that’s what y’all worried about, I think man, good luck to y’all.”

It’s unclear where this mindset was coming from — the Sixers’ front office, Brett Brown, other coaches on the team, or a combination.

No matter what you think of Butler’s personality, his value to the team and how he helped them improve was evident. The approach of trying to “control” a top professional athlete — especially one who was so important to the team’s potential to contend — would never have worked and understandably annoyed Butler.

You can watch Butler and Redick’s conversation in full here:

They certainly covered plenty of interesting topics.