PHILADELPHIA – The question a reporter posed to 76ers coach Brett Brown on Sunday in New York had nothing to do about the reported confrontation between him and Jimmy Butler in a recent film session. Instead, a reporter was asking how far Butler has come in learning the 76ers offense since he arrived from the Timberwolves in a trade in November.
But Brown seemed like he had a few things he still wanted to get off his chest about that report from ESPN, which said Butler confronted Brown in a way that was outside the norm between a player and coach. He addressed the report again.
“When you go into a team film and you say, this is what I see, what do you see? I’m the instigator … ” Brown said. “This is why I like coaching. I like that communication, the relationship. Sometimes, there’s subtle, respectful confrontation. There is in my home. I got no problems with any of it. I think where the thing pivots to ‘Oh, this isn’t typical,’ I don’t agree with that.
“It’s happened many times. This is just the first time it’s public.”
And after that response, Brown paused and continued: “It was newsworthy for a few days. Maybe I just gave it more life. Probably I did. Sorry.”
The 76ers, who face the Wolves on Tuesday in Philadelphia, are getting a crash course in what life is like when Butler is on your team — you’re getting someone who plays at an All-Star level. You’re also getting someone who is going to cause drama, dust-ups in the media and consternation in your locker room thanks to his competitive nature.
Butler previously addressed the film session with Philadelphia media, saying, “I’m telling you it’s a player and a coach conversation.”
But he did not feel much like talking in advance of Tuesday’s game.
He ducked out of the locker room quickly as reporters filed in following Philadelphia’s victory over the Knicks on Sunday, and the 76ers canceled practice on Monday. All Butler said when a reporter mentioned before Sunday’s game how hectic things had been in Minnesota following Tom Thibodeau’s firing was, “That’s normal over there” and left the room.
As he did, former Wolves center Justin Patton remained at his locker. Patton went to Philadelphia as the second piece in the Butler trade, which brought Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Jerryd Bayless to Minnesota.
Patton has had a front-row seat to the drama around Butler in Minnesota and Philadelphia, and he doesn’t think Butler is responsible for it.
“I think it’s all just fake. I think the media has to make something up, you know?” Patton said. “And right now, they don’t want him to be the good guy. I’m around every team we’ve been on, he’s always a good guy. If the media is out there saying he’s a bad guy, it doesn’t mean anything to us. Hopefully people with actual smart minds know how this game works and know it’s not true.”
Patton referred to Butler as “one of the best guys in the locker room.
“He’s probably the guy you want in the locker room if you want to win,” he said.
But Butler didn’t want to win with the Wolves and caused a stir on his way out the door. There were reports of tensions between him and Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Butler had always prodded the Wolves’ franchise cornerstones to work harder off the court and stop getting by on their natural talent. He famously blew up his first practice of the season while calling out teammates and General Manager Scott Layden. Butler also only played in some games before the trade, with Thibodeau chalking up Butler’s absence in the others to “general soreness,” a term that took on a life of its own on social media. Then, finally, the Wolves ceded to Butler’s trade request on Nov. 10 after starting the season 4-9.
The Wolves have tried to put all that in their past since then, but it hovers over their season considering the slow start cost them games in the standings. The Wolves are 17-13 since the trade — proving they can win without Butler — but Philadelphia is even better, at 20-10 in that span.
At practice Monday in Minneapolis, Wiggins didn’t mention there was any tension between him and Butler. He said he had a “good” relationship with Butler.
“He was older, and he tried to teach me a lot on both sides of the floor,” Wiggins said. “I learned a lot from his approach to the game and brought intensity to every game. He was a good teammate, very unselfish. … He took notice of everything. He wasn’t too judgmental. … He was patient.”
Interim coach Ryan Saunders said the Wolves were “looking forward and not looking back.”
“We just want to focus on who we have in front of us next and who we have in our locker room,” Saunders said.
That locker room is a different place without Butler in it, for better or worse.
Staff writer Michael Rand contributed to this report.