This won’t help.
Upset with his role in the offense, Butler is reportedly challenging Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.
Butler has been vocal in his contesting of Brown and his system, including a recent film session in Portland that some witnesses considered “disrespectful” and beyond normal player-coach discourse.
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.
Butler has expressed a desire to teammates that he hopes to play in more traditional pick-and-roll and isolation sets, rather than trying to find his place in the Sixers free-flowing offense, league sources said.
Butler’s sluggish assimilation into the Sixers environment is causing some concern about his long-term viability and fit with the organization, league sources said.
This set of facts isn’t terribly distressesful on its own. Many players struggle to adapt to a new system, especially one with as much high-end talent as the 76ers have. Talking with the coach and general management about it is a productive step. “Disrespectful” can be in the eye of the beholder, and the person supposedly disrespected is saying he didn’t feel that way.
But the fact that this has leaked should set off alarms. That means the problems have reached a certain level of significance.
The tricky part: It’s unclear who leaked this and why.
This could be the 76ers trying to warn Butler he’s going too far/depress demand for him in free agency next summer. This could be Butler sending a warning shot he is unhappy/might leave. This could be someone in the organization sympathetic to Brown or upset with Butler trying to protect the coach at Butler’s expense.
It could be some combination of those ideas or others.
What’s clearer: Butler hasn’t meshed seamlessly in Philadelphia. He hasn’t meshed seamlessly anywhere.
He had problems with teammates in Minnesota (most notably Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins) and Chicago (most notably Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah), but he has also clashed with all his NBA coaches – Fred Hoiberg of course, even Tom Thibodeau and now Brown. Butler doesn’t fear conflict. He invites it. That sometimes makes others uncomfortable.
Thibodeau appreciated it. Hoiberg didn’t. We’ll see how Brown responds.
Unlike Hoiberg but like Thibodeau, Brown has spent a lot of time coaching NBA players. I suspect Brown will accept Butler’s intensity during a film session as long as it stems from Butler’s desire to win and Butler maintains that intensity in games.
But can Brown adjust his offense to maximize Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid? That’s no easy task. It wasn’t easy with just Simmons and Embiid, and Butler adds further complications. But this is the challenge of many contending teams – multiple stars used to dominating the ball adjusting to new roles. It doesn’t help that Embiid openly says he dislikes shooting 3-pointers, and Simmons is clearly even more averse to long-distance shots. That narrows Brown’s possible solutions.
Still, several months remain the season. There’s plenty of time for everyone to find a happy medium. The 76ers can still offer Butler the most money next summer, and they obviously acquired him intent on re-signing him.
It’s tough to tell whether this is just reasonable turbulence on a long flight together or early signs of a crash landing between Butler and Philadelphia. The former seems more likely, but the latter is terrifyingly possible.