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January 07, 2019

Angelo Cataldi: Does Jimmy Butler have a point about Brett Brown?

Opinion Sixers
0107_Brett_Brown_Jimmy_Butler_Sixers_USAT Jayne Kamin-Oncea /USA Today Sports

Brett Brown talks to Jimmy Butler and T.J. McConnell.

During a film session before the 76ers game in Portland on Dec. 30, Jimmy Butler had the audacity to openly challenge the way coach Brett Brown has been using him. How dare he.

After all, Brown has won zero championships as an NBA head coach, has made it past the first round only once in five seasons here and has a 153-297 record on the Sixers bench. And still Butler, a four-time All-Star, thought he might have a better idea on how to maximize his skills?

Crazy, isn’t it?

I know, I know. Brown was supposed to lose the first four years here, and he has been the one management representative who consistently has known what to say in big moments. All I’m arguing is, he’s not exactly as accomplished as his mentor in San Antonio, Gregg Popovich. There’s nothing wrong with someone – anyone – questioning his strategy.

The fact is, after all this time, no one is actually sure how good a bench coach Brown is. Even though he doesn’t agree with this assessment, he got outcoached – badly – in the second round of the playoffs against Boston last season. Celtics coach Brad Stevens took Brown to school on the final play of Game 3. The tape doesn’t lie. Check it out.

At the same time, there’s no denying that Brown saw the potential of Ben Simmons as a point guard before anyone else, and the coach has devised an effective plan for developing the best player on the team, Joel Embiid. Brown is no Johnny Davis, either. He has a clue.

But so does Butler, and there’s nothing wrong with a star player providing input, solicited or otherwise, on the best way to use him. According to the ESPN report that started this media brushfire, Brown handled what was described as a “disrespectful” exchange with his usual poise.

When Brown acquired Butler two months ago, it was hardly a secret that the player is no choir boy. Butler burned bridges in Chicago and Minnesota before the Sixers got him at a bargain price. Butler is known for speaking his mind, even if it causes a little chaos in the locker room – and even as he approaches free agency at the end of this season.

Will Butler’s abrasive personality affect Brown’s (and GM Elton Brand’s) decision on whether to keep him? Will Butler back off now that his latest outburst has become public? How will all of this drama affect the Sixers as they approach the playoffs?

All I know is, it’s refreshing for a player to speak up if he genuinely has an idea that will help his team. Jimmy Butler is a smart competitor, even if he has not yet mastered the art of subtlety. Based on his Brown’s first five-plus years here, the coach needs all the help he can get.