Jimmy Butler is a cookie-cutter Heat-type player. But is pursuing the star worth the potential drawbacks?
Five summers ago, Jimmy Butler and some friends rented a house in Houston. Leave it at that, and it sounds like the makings of a buddy comedy, in which a few guys hang out and drink some brews while getting into some zany, southern shenanigans.
But knowing Jimmy Butler, that was far from the case.
Then a member of the Chicago Bulls, Butler wasn’t vacationing. He sequestered himself in an attempt to focus on working out. From dawn ’til dusk it was basketball. No cable, no internet. Just weights, reps and healthy living.
“I wanted to be so good at the game that we didn’t have cable, we didn’t have the Internet,” Butler told Sports Illustrated. “Whenever we got bored, all we would do is go to the gym. We’d eat, sleep and go to the gym. We’d go three times a day because we didn’t have anything else to do. We were sitting on the couch, looking at each other, saying, ‘What the hell are we going to do all day?’”
That type of manic obsession is a regular character trait among NBA players, but for Butler it was necessary to cultivate. A junior college turned Division I prospect, Butler entered the league a mid-range selection. The Chicago Bulls selected him 30th in the 2011 NBA Draft. Though he made the full-time roster, he rode the bench, watching head coach Tom Thibodeau’s tight knit rotations from afar. He made the starting lineup in 2013–14 thanks to his defensive tenacity — he averaged almost two steals per game that year — but couldn’t help his team escape the first round of the Playoffs.
So, the summer of 2014 became Butler’s chance to make a difference. He changed his diet and upped his game.
He saw his gains the following season. Butler made the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, earned his second All-Defensive team nod, and was deemed the NBA’s most improved player. He couldn’t lead the Bulls past the LeBron James driven Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the Playoffs, but the season was a resounding success for the Tomball, Texas native. Butler was on the path to NBA stardom.
Everything about Butler’s story resonates with the Miami Heat, who are touted as one of the teams that could snag him this summer. Butler almost moved to Miami last September, when the Heat and Minnesota Timberwolves were engaged in talks to ship the brash forward to South Beach. That exchange would have likely included Miami’s Josh Richardson, a wingman that is suspiciously similar to a young Butler (albeit a better shooter).
Though the deal was void — Minnesota wanted too much from an already gouged Heat squad — Butler’s stayed interest is reassuring for a team that has struggled to regain championship contention.
It seems every season another player is interested in joining Miami’s ranks. Team president Pat Riley and head coach Erik Spoesltra have created a hardworking basketball enclave within the vices of South Beach. Gordon Hayward and Kevin Durant were the biggest free agents in recent history to take a liking to Miami, though Miami’s trademark culture is regularly praised.
Butler is cut from the same cloth that’s woven through Miami’s roster; he’s durable and embraces personal challenges (remember when he led the Timberwolves’ third string players in a practice victory against the team’s starters?). Miami wouldn’t have to retool his body from the ground up or deal with temper tantrums. He’d butt heads with his teammates and coach, inevitably, but it’d all be in the name of growth and competition.
The problem arises when it comes to how the deal gets done. Butler is a free agent and Miami can’t afford to sign him outright. A sign-and-trade would have to happen, though that would subject Miami to the NBA’s hard cap, limiting the front office in its ability to move players for the foreseeable future. And, even if Miami did acquiesce to a sign-and-trade, who would they give up? Hassan Whiteside could satisfy a deal given his current max contract, though the likelihood of Philadelphia uniting BFFs Whiteside and Joel Embiid are slim. Some combination that includes Justise Winslow or Richardson is more likely, though investing in a soon-to-be 30-year-old version of a player Miami already has would draw criticism far and wide.
Still, Butler has drawn at least one cosign from the Heat fandom. As is the case with most pre-Free Agency recruiting, Heat star and retiree Dwyane Wade recently hinted at the possibility of Butler joining his old squad.
Wade had no reason to tag Butler — though his cheeky side would suggest he knows exactly what he doing — but he did, and now all we can do is speculate. Would he un-retire to play with his fellow Marquette University alum and former Bulls teammate? Would this push Miami back into the spotlight in the East? (Probably a firm “no” to both of these).
What are the Heat to do? Is Butler the game changing piece to help Miami reclaim Eastern Conference dominance? Probably not, given the team has more issues to work out, like its reoccurring hatred of scoring in the third quarter. Adding Butler might bring some flair back to South Beach, but without a long-term plan and roster flexibility, the Heat would end up right where they started.