About three weeks and two game-winning jumpers after Jimmy Butler’s arrival in Philadelphia, Brett Brown already seemed to have a decent sense of his new star’s personality.
“He’s a free spirit — there are lots of great players that have that maverick in them,” Brown said on Dec. 4, 2018. “He’s not like a ‘yes, sir, no, sir’ Boy Scout guy.”
The details of why Butler still isn’t a Sixer are, depending on one’s perspective, fascinating, nauseating, tiresome or irrelevant. It’s a subject that’s come up often since the five-time All-Star headed to the Heat last summer in a complicated sign-and-trade that brought Josh Richardson to Philadelphia. Butler addressed it yet again Tuesday night before his first NBA Finals appearance, highlighting the stubborn authenticity Brown had once described.
“I just get to be me here,” he told reporters. “I get to call it how I see it. Nobody takes it personally. Don’t have to worry about anybody trying to control me, as it was said people were trying to do over there. But I have no hard feelings toward any of those players, anybody in that organization. I’m glad to be where I am. As you can tell, it’s worked out, and that’s where I leave it. … I’ve gotta stay focused in on right now and the group that I have.”
The Sixers are worse off because they no longer have Butler, and that should sting for an organization searching for Brown’s replacement with an uncertain front office situation around general manager Elton Brand. Whatever the specific reasons for Butler’s departure, everyone can agree it’s worked out better for him than for the Sixers.
Contrasting the Heat’s much-lauded, no-nonsense culture and the Sixers’, which Richardson thought was deficient in accountability under Brown, is not a difficult task.
“Saying it like it is,” Butler said Tuesday of why Miami was appealing, “holding everyone accountable and moving on from it. … You get to come here and you get to be you? I’m in.”
Butler can work out at 3 a.m., curse teammates out when they mess up and be the ultimate version of himself with the Heat. That includes a signature brand of late-game heroics in which he determines he’s going to reach a spot – near the hoop for a go-ahead layup, or into a passing lane for a steal, or above the rim for a rebound – and makes his vision a reality, devoid of hesitation, timidity or whatever might hold others back. Time and again, he wants to reach his destination more than anyone trying to stop him.
We might view this situation differently if Bam Adebayo hadn’t transformed into an All-Star, or if Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson weren’t draining big shots to support Butler, the owner of Big Face Coffee. Butler is more charming when he’s winning games, his approach more persuasive. He’s not unique in that respect.
As circumstances have changed around Butler, he’s prided himself on staying the same person. On his fourth NBA team and in his ninth professional season, it’s worked. A homeless teenager at one point, he’s going to face LeBron James and the Lakers in the Finals.
You can view him however you’d like. You can make your own judgements on whether he’s as genuine and hard-working as he tells us, draw your own conclusions about previous behind-the-scenes tensions. Butler insists it doesn’t bother him. He believes this is where he’s supposed to be, on a “business trip” at Disney World with the Heat. It’s hard to argue.
“Nobody’s in the locker room, nobody’s at the practice,” he said Tuesday. “It’s all he said, she said, to a point. Nobody knows what’s really going on. I don’t explain anything detail for detail. I just take being a bad guy. I like it that way. It doesn’t bother me. It’s not like I’m reading everything that’s on the Internet.
“I know who I am. I’m cool, I’m content with that, and that’s where I leave it at. I’m here now and I belong here. I’ve belonged here for a very long time, so that’s where I’m at. Here, my ruffling feathers or whatever you want to call it, it’s OK here.”