In his first season with the Miami Heat, Jimmy Butler finds himself up 2-0 on the top seeded Bucks. He has advanced to the second round of the playoffs for only the third time in his career and experienced his first-ever playoff sweep against the fifth-seeded Indiana Pacers. But it hasn’t always been sunshine and pina coladas for Butler.
Before arriving in Miami, Butler was a superstar vagabond, thumbing his way around the Midwest in search of a championship. On his journey to South Beach, Butler played for three franchises with less-than-stellar reputations. After each stop, the perception of Butler being a difficult player grew. He didn’t get along with teammates. He needed to be the go-to guy. Now that the Heat have become a popular pick to surprise out of the East, maybe people can finally see how Butler played us all.
America learned about some dysfunction during the MJ years with general manager Jerry Krause. Well, the friction between players and management has grown through the years.
Butler was drafted a year after Derrick Rose became the youngest player to ever win an MVP. Sadly, Rose missed the 2012-13 season and played in only 10 games the following year with yet another knee injury. It was that 2013-14 season that Chicago realized the potential in Butler. Butler realized it too.
After averaging 13.1 points, five rebounds, 2.6 assists, and almost two steals in his first full season as a starter, Chicago offered the third year guard a 4-year, $44-million extension. Butler declined. The following year he made his first All-Star appearance and averaged 20 points while his backcourt mate suffered yet another devastating knee injury. Chicago’s offer doubled and Butler signed a 5-year, $95-million deal.
Before the 2015 season, coach Tom Thibodeau was fired. At the end of the season, the Bulls dealt Rose to the Knicks along with a flurry of other moves, leaving Butler as the last man standing. They brought in veterans Rajon Rondo and hometown guy Dwayne Wade but began to reconsider the franchise’s direction after a 41-41 season.
On draft night 2017, Butler was traded. He was reportedly targeted by Philadelphia, Minnesota, Cleveland, and Boston. So how did Minnesota win out? At the time, Cleveland was preparing for what would be their final season with LeBron. Butler reportedly wanted to stay in Chicago instead of teaming up with LeBron to chase a title. The foresight of this decision should not be overlooked. Butler clearly wasn’t keen on parlaying the chance at playing for a LeBron-less Cleveland team, with winning a title. He was looking long-term.
The Sixers and Celtics were interested but held pat with their 1st and 3rd overall picks, respectively. So that left Minnesota. With a 13-year playoff drought, budding star in Karl Anthony-Towns, and former number one pick Andrew Wiggins, it seemed like a no brainer. Butler accepted and a new big three was formed.
In Minnesota he teamed up with KAT and Andrew Wiggins in hopes of bringing the T-Wolves their first playoff berth since the trio of KG, Sprewell and Cassell took them to the Western Conference finals in ‘03. They achieved just that, going 47-35 before getting booted in the first round. For Jimmy, that wasn’t good enough. The man who reinvented himself the summer before his fourth season, the man who rented an offseason house and didn’t even furnish it because he wanted zero distractions, wasn’t going to take it anymore. Towns and Wiggins were two uberly talented players, athletically gifted with size, speed and, in Wiggins’ case, mad hops. Butler was not. He worked his way from no D-1 offers to riding the bench at Marquette, to late-first-round pick, to role player, to star, and he wasn’t going to stop there.
While Butler was living most people’s nightmare in his offseason workouts, KAT was more interested in playing Fortnite with Wiggins until 6 a.m. In the all too memorable practice incident – Butler and a team of reserves handled the T-Wolves starters, then berated them – Butler made it known he was not satisfied in Minnesota. Again Butler was portrayed as the villain, a complainer and problem child. But again he got his wish and was sent to Philly for the last year of his contract.
In Philly the hope was Butler could bring much needed leadership to a talented team after years of tanking. Again, the Jimmy Butler experiment lasted just one year. The Sixers made the playoffs as the third seed in the East but were knocked out in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals by a bouncing buzzer beater from The Claw.
At the start of the 2019 free agency, Butler was shipped to Miami in a sign-and-trade that landed Butler a max contract. To all unbiased eyes, Philadelphia seemed clearly the more likely place to win a championship.
That was then. Now the Sixers are watching the playoffs after being swept by Boston in the first round. Brett Brown was sacked, and now one of the most promising franchises has questions to answer. Butler likely saw a better version of KAT and Wiggins when he looked at Embiid and Simmons – young, not fully matured, not ready to run with Jimmy.
It’s hard to argue with the almost-finished product. Butler has repeatedly stated his desire to win a title. Now he is only two wins from reaching his first Conference finals, two wins from knocking out the top seed. In Miami he has found a culture that fits, a team that plays hard defense, and a group of teammates who are as fearless as he is.
Is Jimmy Butler the smartest man in the NBA?
You’d have to ask Jimmy.
Chicago finished this season 22-43, which is a mild improvement over last season, and on par with 2017, the year Butler left.
The T-Wolves finished 19-45, just ahead of the Warriors for second to last in the Western Conference.
As noted earlier Philadelphia was swept in the first round by Boston and looked as inept and confused as ever. They are now looking for a new head coach.
Meanwhile in Miami…Eric Spoelstra is the second-longest tenured head coach in the league trailing only Greg Popovich. Pat Riley is entering his 25th season as President of the Heat, also the second longest tenured GM/President in the league behind – you guessed it – Popovich. Riley is also an 8-time champion (player, coach, and president), while Spoelstra has two titles.
The Bulls, T-Wolves, and Sixers coaches/presidents/GM’s during Butler’s stays had a combined six championships, three of which came as assistant coaches (Thibodeau – Boston 2007, Brown – San Antonio 2005, 2006), and three more from John Paxson’s days playing with the Bulls.