76ers

Jimmy Butler's relationship with Brett Brown could help keep the free agent with Sixers

Jimmy Butler's relationship with Brett Brown could help keep the free agent with Sixers

Jimmy Butler is a different cat.

To say Butler walks to the beat of his own drum would be a gross understatement.

Before he was traded to the Sixers, he garnered a reputation — fair or unfair — for being difficult. Was Butler a locker room problem or simply misunderstood?

His trade to the Sixers and relationship with his new coach showed that perhaps it was the latter. With Butler about to hit free agency, having a head coach in place that understands him can't be underestimated.

"I believe we arrived at a place where, if we’re able to coach together again," Brett Brown said, "he’s able to play for me, I’m able to coach him — I think you jump into this thing in a far advanced way given the history, albeit brief, that we both have had with each other and use him more correctly. Him understanding me and the team more correctly right from the get-go.”

It wasn’t always the smoothest road for coach and player.

There was the report that Butler “aggressively challenged” Brown, but that seemed to blow over as quickly as it was reported. There were concerns over Butler’s role, with a fear that Brown may have been using Butler the same way he’d been using Robert Covington.

As the season went, things expanded with Butler. Brown incorporated more pick-and-rolls, not something he’d done much of during his tenure. He put Butler, an underrated playmaker who takes care of the ball, at the point. It’s something no coach had every really done with him, but it worked.

By the playoffs, Butler and Brown were on the same page.

“I think as the year went on I got more comfortable with how I was being utilized on offense and on the defensive end of the floor as well,” Butler said. “I got used to everything, we talked about it. [Brown] would ask my opinion on a lot of different things. I would legit be in the coaches’ meeting, whether they wanted to me in there or not, just because I wanted to know what was going on at all times. And they would welcome me. But I got comfortable at the end. I knew what my job was.”

Off the court, Butler arguably made a bigger imprint on the team. 

He developed a relationship with 22-year-old Ben Simmons almost immediately. The two famously become “headband brothers.” Brown had asked Butler to take Simmons under his wing regarding defensive accountability. It may not be a coincidence that Simmons’ defense was at an elite level during the postseason.

Butler also aided Joel Embiid from a leadership standpoint. For as great as Embiid is, there is a maturation process still happening. No one will deny how remarkably talented he is or how important he is to the franchise, but he needed guidance. Butler would join Embiid at the podium for the entire postseason — on one occasion even when Butler had already fulfilled his media obligation.

For a guy that supposedly couldn’t work with younger players, it was impressive to see develop.

“He emerged to be a leader,” Brown said. “He is a different thinker, for sure, and I say that with respect. We get he cares, we get he’s highly competitive, we understand. I think there is a connection with his spirit and physicality to that city that mirrors each other.”

Butler will become a free agent this summer. There will be conjecture about where he wants to play, who he wants to play with, if he’ll get a max deal, etc. 

But don’t underestimate the fact that the misunderstood Butler feels like Brown understands him.

“I think he realizes how different a human being that I am,” Butler said. “How I can be difficult at times, but it’s from the right place. I work so hard and study my game and everybody else’s. He has a huge heart. He’s a great, great dude. He’s always thinking about how he can make everybody great, which is hard to do when you have the roster that we’ve had. I think he’s going to be here for a long time.”

Brown hopes Butler is, too.

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2019 NBA free agent targets: Looking for insurance if Sixers lose Tobias Harris and/or Mike Scott

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2019 NBA free agent targets: Looking for insurance if Sixers lose Tobias Harris and/or Mike Scott

The Sixers ultimately hope that they can bring back Tobias Harris and Mike Scott to solidify the power forward position. If they lose one or both, there are a few interesting names on the market.

We’ve already looked at point guards and wings the team could target.

Here are five power forwards the Sixers could look at in free agency.

Paul Millsap

Millsap is a decent player who was signed to a non-team friendly contract. He’s 34, but still a very useful NBA power forward. He is an average shooter from three, a good rebounder, a decent passer for his position and a strong, intelligent defender. If Tobias Harris walks, Millsap could make sense as a guy that will be comfortable in a secondary role. It’s not a super sexy signing, but he could be a decent starter while likely being a fifth option offensively and solidifying things on the other end. He also offers versatility as a small ball five or a big wing in the right matchup.

Marcus or Markieff Morris

Marcus and Markieff are obviously their own people, but the twin brothers from Philly have a very similar skill set. The biggest difference is that Marcus is a much more consistent shooter from three for his career, but Markieff is at least a league average shooter. Both will supply you with toughness and experience. Marcus actually had a pretty substantial role for the Celtics last season while Markieff’s season was marred by injury. Either would be a nice addition either to start if Harris walks or in a bench role if Scott walks.

Rudy Gay

Gay could always score the basketball, but with the Spurs, he’s become a smarter and more willing defender. He shot over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, both career highs. He’s also a decent passer and does have some ability to create his own shot. You could look at him as an older, but cheaper version of Harris. It’ll be interesting to see what Gay earns on the open market entering his age-33 season. If the Sixers are looking for a short-term commitment, Gay could be the option here.

Maxi Kleber

You may not have seen much of Kleber in Dallas. When you look at his stats, you won’t be overly impressed, but this guy can play. He’s an excellent on-the-ball defender in the post and finished 11th in the NBA in block percentage. Kleber is great at challenging without fouling. He also hit 35 percent of his threes. He’s the type of player that can play next to and also back up Joel Embiid. If you’re unable to bring back Harris, signing a combination of Kleber and Patrick Beverley would give the Sixers one of, if not the best, defensive starting lineups in the league.

Jeff Green

Green is what he is. He’s a long and skilled player that has never quite put it together consistently in the NBA. But he’s a switchable defender and has playoff experience. He shot 34.7 percent from three, his highest mark from distance since 2012-13. He’ll enter the season at 33 and he likely won’t command more than the veteran minimum. Again, not the sexiest signing, but it’s nice to have a veteran that at least knows what to do if you need him.

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2019 NBA free agency rumors: Rockets reportedly plan to pursue sign-and-trade with Sixers for Jimmy Butler

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2019 NBA free agency rumors: Rockets reportedly plan to pursue sign-and-trade with Sixers for Jimmy Butler

Well, at least one team is trying to throw a wrench in the Sixers’ attempt to #RunItBack.

The Rockets plan to pursue Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with the Sixers when the NBA’s legal tampering period begins Sunday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

There’s a lot to untangle here. Woj is not saying that the feeling is mutual or that the Sixers would be inclined to go through with the deal. He said “if” Butler wants to go to Houston and “if” he can talk the Sixers into it. That’s two pretty big “ifs.” Woj also said the Sixers plan to “be aggressive” in re-signing the four-time All-Star.

From the Sixers’ perspective, it makes little sense to do a sign-and-trade. In order to make the money work, you’d have to take back the contracts of Eric Gordon and Clint Capela. Gordon is not the same player he once was — which is why the Rockets would be willing to move him — and Capela would be a backup center making an average annual salary of $18 million. You could theoretically flip Capela, but that’s a dicey option. The Sixers would be in a better spot by just allowing Butler to walk and use the cap space to re-sign Tobias Harris and JJ Redick and perhaps another free agent.

For Butler, there is an appeal in wanting to play for the team he grew up watching and alongside two future HOFers. But the Sixers just seem like a better fit on the court and money wise. The situation on the Rockets seems combustible. Chris Paul has reportedly asked to be dealt and it’d be interesting to see how Butler would react to James Harden’s play on defense. The Sixers can also offer Butler a five-year, $190 max deal because they own his Bird rights. It’s unclear how much Houston can actually give Butler with their murky cap situation — though GM Daryl Morey has navigated such situations before.

Butler has said repeatedly that his decision in free agency won’t be based on money.

“You always want to be able to win, I think that’s key for sure,” Butler said during his exit interview. “You’re looking at coaches, you’re looking at the city. There’s a lot that goes into it. For me, as long as I got my people with me, they’re happy, they’re smiling and we’re waking up knowing were getting to work in an environment where we’re having fun … we get it, we understand.”

Does that sound more like Houston or Philadelphia? Buckle up, Sixers fans. This is just the beginning.

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