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.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Sixers injury update: 'More explosive' Ben Simmons feeling healthy, stronger with added muscle

Sixers injury update: 'More explosive' Ben Simmons feeling healthy, stronger with added muscle

For months now, we’ve wondered if Ben Simmons would be healthy enough to play if the NBA season resumed. The Sixers for the most part have been consistent with saying the All-Star is healthy.

On a video conference call with reporters Thursday, Simmons put to rest any notion that the nerve impingement in his lower back would still be a problem in Disney World.

“I’m feeling even better than I was when I started the season,” Simmons said. “I’ve been working since I had the injury, working until now to be prepared for whatever happens, wherever we go. So I’m feeling great, been rehabbing this whole time, so I’ve been feeling ready and very comfortable.”

While the NBA stopping play amid the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t an ideal scenario, the silver lining for the Sixers is Simmons’ health. He basically got the equivalent of an offseason to not only rehab his injury, but also get stronger. 

If you follow Simmons on social media, you’ve likely seen images of him in the weight room. That wasn’t just a show. Simmons said he’s added “a lot more muscle” which was his focus during the time off.

Now, his back is fully recovered and he’s ready to go when the league resumes play.

“Overall, just more strength,” Simmons said when asked to put his muscle gain in context. “It’s hard to keep that size on during the season so this was kind of like a resetting point. I was able to get Pilates in almost every day. Lifting weights, taking care of my body and getting back to 100 percent. I’ve just been trying to go overboard with that and being prepared to be down there and play.”

Is he feeling more explosive?

More explosive, definitely, but just more control,” Simmons said. “I feel a lot more control when I’m out there on the floor and knowing what I’m capable of with my body. It just feels very good and overall, I just feel like I’m back to 100 percent. It’s just a good feeling.

Speaking of health, the Sixers are preparing to head down to Florida next Thursday and head into the NBA’s “bubble.” Since Phase 2 of the league’s health protocols began on June 23, 25 of the 351 players that have been tested were positive for COVID-19.

While there is apprehension and uncertainty surrounding the NBA’s return to play, Simmons is putting his trust in the league and players like LeBron James and Chris Paul to lead the way. Though Simmons respects other players' decisions for opting out, as long as his teammates were going, he was “all in.”

As for his role on the court once they get down there, some questions remain.

We’ve seen Brett Brown use Simmons more as a screener and roller this season. The results have been fruitful at times. Brown has said he will look to use Simmons more in that capacity in the playoffs, unlike last season when Simmons was relegated to the dunker spot.

Brown has lauded Simmons’ versatility and his young All-Star is on board for whatever role he’s assigned.

I think I’m the type of player who can be in multiple positions and different spots to help the team,” Simmons said. “I feel like I have a very high IQ on the court and see things a lot differently. I’m able to pass the ball very well, so that’s always a threat. But I love playing in that pick-and-roll, that situation — or pick-and-pop, whatever it is. It just gives us so many different options and it’s tough to guard.

Simmons has played some of the best basketball of his career this season, in part because of Brown being creative in the way he’s used the 6-foot-10 point guard. Unfortunately, that hasn’t translated as much to wins as the Sixers would like. After such lofty expectations to start the season, they find themselves as the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed.

While there may be doubters on the outside, Simmons knows what his team can do at its best.

“We’re not worried about what other people are saying,” Simmons said. “We’ve got to focus on ourselves and get ready to compete. We’ve beaten the best teams in the league so we’re ready to compete. We’re a young, healthy team right now so we’re looking forward to grabbing this opportunity and going all the way. We’re not going to go out there doubting ourselves. We know what we’re capable of.”

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

2020 NBA return format: Schedule, teams, location, standings, and details

2020 NBA return format: Schedule, teams, location, standings, and details

The 2019-20 NBA season will have a conclusion.

The league's Board of Governors have approved a 22-team plan to resume the season at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and each team will play an eight-game schedule to determine seeding for the 2020 NBA playoffs. 

Here's everything you need to know about the NBA's return inside a "bubble" in Orlando.

Who are the teams going to Orlando? What are the NBA standings?

Nine returning teams are from the Eastern Conference and 13 are from the Western Conference. In the East, only Washington has a chance to jump into playoff position, while in the West, Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio and Phoenix could all advance into playoff position. 

Here are the standings entering the restart:

East

  1. x-Milwaukee -- 53-12
  2. x-Toronto -- 46-18
  3. x-Boston -- 43-21
  4. x-Miami -- 41-24
  5. x-Indiana -- 39-26
  6. x-Philadelphia -- 39-26
  7. Brooklyn -- 30-34
  8. Orlando -- 30-35
  9. Washington -- 24-40

West

  1. x-L.A. Lakers  -- 49-14
  2. x-L.A. Clippers -- 44-20
  3. x-Denver -- 43-22
  4. x-Utah -- 41-23
  5. x-Oklahoma City -- 40-24
  6. x-Houston -- 40-24
  7. Dallas -- 40-27
  8. Memphis -- 32-33
  9. Portland -- 29-37
  10. New Orleans -- 28-36
  11. Sacramento -- 28-36
  12. San Antonio -- 27-36
  13. Phoenix -- 26-39

At 39-26, the Sixers sit sixth in the Eastern Conference. They're clinched for the playoffs, but they have an opportunity to earn a higher seed with the eight "regular season" games on their schedule. The fifth-seeded Pacers are also 39-26, while the fourth-seeded Heat are two games ahead of the Sixers.

The final regular-season games will impact the Sixers in the 2020 NBA draft, as well. If the Thunder finish with one of the NBA's 11 best records, the Sixers will own Oklahoma City's top-20 protected first-round pick, which they acquired when they traded Markelle Fultz to Orlando last February. 

What is the Sixers' schedule?

The NBA schedule for the 22 teams headed to Orlando was released on June 26. It will begin August 1 at 1 p.m. ET, with five games being played that day. The Sixers are one of those games. Here's their full schedule for the seeding games:

Aug. 1, 7 p.m.: Indiana
Aug. 3, 8 p.m: San Antonio
Aug. 5, 4 p.m.: Washington
Aug. 7, 6:30 p.m.: Orlando
Aug. 9, 6:30 p.m.: Portland
Aug. 11, 4:30 p.m.: Phoenix
Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m.: Toronto 
Aug. 14, TBD: Houston 

How will the new format address COVID-19?

The season has been suspended since March 11, when Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. On March 19, the Sixers announced that three members of the organization had tested positive for COVID-19. As of July 1, the Sixers say that no members of their organization have tested positive as they prepare for Orlando. 

The NBA's health and safety memo is 113 pages long. Players and staff will quarantine for 36 hours and will be required to test negative in two tests, 24 hours apart, upon arrival. There will be "regular" testing for players and coaches. 

Where do the Sixers stand entering the restart?

The Sixers’ last game before the hiatus was a 124-106 win over the Pistons in which Joel Embiid scored 30 points after a five-game absence because of a left shoulder sprain and Al Horford had 20 points and 10 rebounds. That victory improved the Sixers to an NBA-best 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center, the best home mark in the league. They’ve been woeful on the road and sport a 10-24 away record. 

“Obviously playing in front of no fans, especially our fans, isn't ideal,” head coach Brett Brown said on May 15. “It's not ideal. Do I think it'll water down the competitive side? I don't. … Of course, it's going to have some level of an impact. I do feel just the mere fact that we'll be playing again might be able to sort of minimize whatever awkwardness playing in front of zero fans is going to teach all of us.

"I think it will be almost comical, the communication with referees and the back and forth with players and the rest. … And so how it will play out, I don't know. None of us have ever done this.” 

One potential benefit of the hiatus for the Sixers is the additional time it provided Ben Simmons to rehab. The two-time All-Star had missed the team’s final eight games before the suspension because of a nerve impingement in his lower back, but he will be fully healthy when games begin on August 1

Subscribe and rate Sixers Talk: Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | YouTube

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers