The insiders say Butler "aggressively challenged" Brown about his role in the offense, where Butler would prefer to play in a more pick-and-roll and iso-heavy offense, rather than the free-flowing one Brown believes fits best. A recent film session in Portland was described by witnesses as "disrespectful" and beyond the normal relationship between a player and coach.
Sources also say Brown has told those within the Sixers he didn't have a problem with the Portland exchange and thinks of it as part of the connection he's fostered with Butler since he was traded to Philadelphia in mid November. A Butler source says his blunt style can rub some the wrong way (well, yeah), but he's not acclimating to the team's environment, which gives pause to talks of his long-term fit, league sources add. Despite this, the Sixers remain committed to him both this season and beyond.
Because Philadelphia retains Butler's Bird rights, they can offer him an extra fifth year in a new deal this summer, so rather than make $140 million over four years on some other team, Philadelphia can pay him $190 million over five years, if they're so willing. But Butler hasn't gelled like Philadelphia would have liked, and that's the specter hanging over this recent ESPN report.
Compounding Butler's issues fitting in with his new team's offense has been the frosty pairing of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, which ESPN described as a "sometimes-tenuous relationship." Butler's vocal belief he should be playing differently on the offensive end negatively impacts Brown's work making sure Simmons and Embiid get along. Embiid's own issues with the offense since Jimmy's arrival portends added trouble in getting the three stars to coexist. Butler has apparently met in private with Brown and the coaches, as well as GM Elton Brand, so it's not like the team is unaware. Plus, Jimmy doesn't hide his feelings well.
"The ability to communicate candidly, to coexist. That's all I care about," Brown said after Monday's win over the Clippers. "We're coming together. We have a new opportunity. You don't just click your heels and throw Jimmy Butler in and everybody's going to be playing the same way and style. It [doesn't] work like that. So, my job is to grow a team. Ben and Jo, Jo and Jimmy, go anywhere you want. Those four are huge. Playing together is what's always, by a long shot, on my mind."
It might be on Brown's mind, but it's a long way from a foregone conclusion beyond this season.