The Sixers are in first place, the Miami Heat are sliding, and former Sixers star Jimmy Butler does not sound terribly pleased.
The Heat surprisingly dropped a game to the lowly Timberwolves on Friday night, and afterwards the oft-outspoken star went on record criticizing his team's approach against Minnesota. Here's what Butler had to say:
"We're just being soft. That's it," Butler said. "Not getting into bodies, scared of some contact. Soft overall."
"I want Bam to attack the rim because nobody can stay in front of him," Butler said. "Nobody can stay in front of him. Go. You're going to get fouled or you're going to dunk on somebody. That's cool. I love him shooting midrange jump shots too, but he lets people off the hook. Play bully ball. I like bully ball."
The fact that Butler is calling out his teammates isn't terribly newsy; it's kind of his thing, no matter where he's played. He's a brutally honest player who isn't afraid to ruffle feathers. I honestly like that about him.
No, the interesting part about these quotes is that they have some serious and intriguing connections to the Sixers.
For one, the end of Butler's quotes from Friday will send Sixers fans back to a dark and troubling time: the 2019-20 season. Then-head coach Brett Brown famously uttered this sentence before the season began:
"We will end up playing smash mouth offense and bully ball defense," Brown said at a luncheon Wednesday in Center City. "We have the team that can do that."
That year's Sixers team, of course, was a miserable group of misfits. It was just a total waste of a season, and the idea of "bully ball" became a punch line.
But this year... the Sixers actually are playing bully ball! They draw the third-most fouls of any team in the league, they rank first in blocks per game, they have the second-best defensive rating in the league, and they rank 11th in points allowed in the paint per game. That's what they wanted to do last year!
Butler didn't jibe with the Sixers when he spent two-thirds of the 2018-19 season under Brett Brown's reportely aimless tutelage, but it sounds like he'd love life in Philly right now.
The enigmatic Butler has previously hinted at a desire to team back up with Embiid, whom he became quick friends with during their time as teammates. And this latest statement from Butler about Adebayo's need to be more aggressive sounds a whole lot like what Embiid said about Ben Simmons last week:
"I want him to be aggressive every single play, whether it’s to make plays or whether it’s to look for his shot," Embiid said. "He's got to be aggressive. He’s got to make guys on the other team guard him."
After a surprise trip to the Finals last year, the Heat are scrounging to get momentum going in the back half of this NBA season while the Sixers are rolling in first place.
Wonder if Butler isn't thinking about how much fun he could be having in Philadelphia.