Last season, Jimmy Butler led the Miami Heat on a surprise run to the NBA Finals. Although they were overmatched by the star power of the Los Angeles Lakers and lost in six games, Jimmy Butler put up an impressive performance. He led the Heat in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks – a feat only equaled by LeBron James in 2016. With Butler as their centerpiece, the Heat are poised to be a contender in the East for years to come.
So, how did he get to this point? Jimmy Butler was drafted by the Chicago Bulls 30th overall in 2011. By his fourth season, Butler had developed himself into an effective two-way player, being named second team all-defense and Most Improved Player in 2015, when he averaged 20.9 points per game.
Despite his productivity, Butler had been traded multiple times before he landed with the Heat last season. In 2017, Chicago came to the conclusion that they could not build a championship team with Butler as the central player. They traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves for a pick swap, Zach Lavine, and Kris Dunn.
With Butler, the Timberwolves found success for the first time in over a decade, as they ended a thirteen year playoff drought. However, Butler’s intense personality clashed with the rest of the Timberwolves roster, and he requested a trade prior to the 2018-19 season. After a training camp absence, Butler reported to the Timberwolves, and he let the organization know how he felt about his place on the roster.
At one point in a scrimmage, sources said, Butler turned to GM Scott Layden and screamed, "You (bleeping) need me. You can't win without me." Butler left teammates and coaches largely speechless. He dominated the gym in every way. Jimmy's back.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 10, 2018
Butler got his wish 10 games into the season, when he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers. The 76ers had a solid season, but they lost the conference semifinals in seven games. At the end of the year, Butler was dealt to Miami via a sign and trade. Now, he finds himself where he was in Chicago, as the clear best player and leader of the team. This time, he has a competent organization who can put the pieces around him in order to win a championship.
Entering the 2019-20 season, it was unclear how far the Miami Heat could go. Many of their key players were young, they had not had significant playoff success since LeBron James left, and several teams appeared to be more talented and more experienced.
The Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, even the Indiana Pacers all opened with better championship odds than the Heat, but Miami beat them all. With a young core anchored by Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, Miami went 12-3 on their way to a Finals berth. They didn’t just win the conference, they made it look easy, and Butler was at the center of it all.
Jimmy Butler might not be the best at any one thing – he’s not the best passer, he’s not an elite three point shooter, he’s not the best defender in the league. Butler may not be the best at one thing but he’s solid at everything.
Actually, Butler may be the best at something – pushing his teammates. Every time he’s been traded, his new team has immediately improved, and gone further in the playoffs than they had in several seasons prior. He might be abrasive, and come across as a poor fit for today’s locker rooms, but he gets results. If changing an organization’s culture and pushing your teammates to do better is a skill, then Butler has mastered it. Jimmy Butler is the best leader is basketball.
Going forward, the Heat look to repeat as Conference champions. They extended Adebayo and Goran Dragic, and brought in Avery Bradley. Whether or not they can take another step and win the championship is unclear, but one thing is certain – when the Bulls decided they could not build a championship caliber team around Jimmy Butler, they were gravely mistaken.