Jimmy Butler wanted to join the Miami Heat a year ago when he requested a trade from the Timberwolves, but ended up being dealt to Philadelphia, where he and the Sixers went on to push the eventual champion Toronto Raptors to seven games and four bounces of the rim on Kawhi Leonard’s game-winning jumper to end their conference semifinals series.
This summer, Butler decided that, despite that success, his heart still was in joining the Heat and worked out a sign-and-trade with Philly to send him to South Beach in exchange for Josh Richardson. Butler and the Heat were expected to be a playoff team, but somewhere in the middle to bottom of the seeding, but through 13 games they’ve been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises at 10-3.
Butler has been the catalyst for that success, but he’s being bolstered by a young team around him that’s performing almost across the board ahead of expectations. Rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro have played beyond their age, while Goran Dragic has returned to form in his bench role and Bam Adebayo continues to build on his success from a year ago. The supporting cast around Butler’s star has fit his game well, but maybe more importantly, they fit his personality too.
Butler recently spoke with The Athletic’s Michael Lee to discuss just about everything, from that Kawhi buzzer-beater to his relationship with Joel Embiid, but it was his effusive praise of the team around him — from players to the coaching staff — that stuck out. Butler has been notoriously demanding in previous stops, but seems to have found a place as crazed about perfecting their craft as he is.
“The ceiling is a championship. And I don’t care what nobody has to say,” Butler said. “If the stars align, we can get it done. If we figure this thing out, we stay together, we get our defense on track, we get our offense on track, and we become top five in both categories, we right there. We right there. We’ve got an opportunity to do something special and we’re working at it every single day.
“We’re not worried about how many young guys we got. How many young guys we got. We’re just worried about us, as a unit, as a whole. Coach Spo is great, great, in so many areas of the game. He studies it, like a madman, because he’s a madman. And it’s even better because we’ve got a bunch of guys that’s obsessed with this shit. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of guys around league that our obsessed with it. I’m saying we got some muthafuckas that, it’s only so much you can study, but if there is any way that you can, they studied it. We studied it. It’s a special group. You may not know many of their names. I [don’t] care, they don’t care, we don’t care. You’ll know sooner or later.”
Him saying Miami has the ceiling of a championship team shouldn’t be surprising, as any player on any playoff team is going to believe that, under the right circumstances, they can win. However, what’s far more important here is how much Butler seems to love being on this team, something that couldn’t be said everywhere he’s gone.
Whether the Heat can sustain this hot start throughout the season to earn homecourt in the first round remains to be seen, as does how this young team would perform in a series against the expected top teams in the East. However, even if things do taper off a bit, this season already illustrates the potential in Miami and a solid foundation to build upon for the future.