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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