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A report from Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN on Friday indicated there is some tension between Philadelphia 76ers wing Jimmy Butler and head coach Brett Brown behind the scenes, namely regarding Butler’s offensive role.
That calls into question whether Butler, whom the Minnesota Timberwolves traded to the 76ers earlier this season, will stay in Philadelphia long term. He has a player option for 2019-20 but can opt out of his deal after this season.
Shelburne and Wojnarowski offered takes from other teams regarding Butler’s future, in addition to providing additional comments: “Rival teams believe Butler will eventually decide to take meetings with interested suitors in July. Butler’s preference has been to sign a more lucrative deal to remain with the Sixers, but it’s clear that there are issues to be worked out before that comfort level fully exists.”
The 29-year-old is averaging 18.0 points on 46.2 percent shooting in 21 games for the 25-14 76ers, who are fourth in the Eastern Conference.
The 76ers have gone 15-6 with him on the floor (and just 10-8 without), so it’s not as if his presence is putting the team’s season on the brink.
However, Butler went from the Chicago Bulls‘ franchise player to second-fiddle to Karl-Anthony Towns in Minnesota. Now his footing in the Philadelphia offense is even further from No. 1, as two 76ers score more points per game (Joel Embiid and JJ Redick) while point guard Ben Simmons runs the offense.
That could naturally cause some frustration, but Shelburne and Wojnarowski also provided some insight on offensive specifics:
“Butler has expressed a desire to teammates that he hopes to play in more traditional pick-and-roll and isolation sets, rather than trying to find his place in the Sixers’ free-flowing offense, league sources said. In searching for answers, Butler has met privately with Brown and his coaching staff, as well as general manager Elton Brand, league sources told ESPN.”
Butler’s issue is that this team is being built around Simmons and Embiid, two prized first-round picks who are 22 and 24 years old, respectively. Embiid is signed through 2023, while Simmons is signed through 2020 (he’s a restricted free agent after that season).
Brown and general manager Elton Brand are going to build around those two and do what they think is best, especially if Butler could hypothetically skip town after this season.
Still, any tension behind the scenes could be much ado about nothing…for now. The 76ers are right in the thick of the Eastern Conference race and sit just 2.5 games back of Milwaukee for the No. 1 seed. Butler’s tenure with the team isn’t even two months old, and when he’s at his best, he’s one of the game’s greatest two-way players.
If more drama is reported later in the year and the 76ers are sliding, however, then the alarm bells can be rung.