After a 39-win season and without much upside or a path to make a splash by signing a big free agent, the Miami Heat elected to go all in on Jimmy Butler via a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. In some ways, that was likely an easy decision for Pat Riley and company, as Butler immediately becomes the centerpiece of a projected playoff team. Even though it cost the franchise a really good player in Josh Richardson, Miami is in a better position on the floor for 2019-20 than they would have been without Butler in the mix and, well, that is a significant factor.
However, there is some uncertainty as to how things might go in Miami during year one of the Butler era and, with that in mind, using Butler’s recent history is a good way to project the future. Of course, the NBA isn’t always linear but, since Butler made the leap to legitimate stardom with the 2014-15 season, he has been an integral part of five playoff-level teams, with none of the five able to really break through with top-tier success.
In this space, we’ll take a look at the rosters that Butler was playing alongside in previous stops, all with an eye toward what things might look like in 2019-20.
2014-15 Chicago Bulls — Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Mike Dunleavy, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich, Aaron Brooks
As noted above, Butler made his real leap during the 2014-15 season, leading the Bulls in scoring at 20 points per game. Still, there was real talent around him, with Rose appearing for 51 games and Gasol generating 19 points and 12 rebounds per night over the course of 78 games. All told, Tom Thibodeau led this group to 50 wins and it was the best performance by Chicago during Butler’s overall prime.
2015-16 Chicago Bulls — Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott
A similar cast netted a far worse result. The Bulls missed the playoffs in 2015-16, even with 66 games from Rose. To be fair, Noah was falling off at this point, appearing in only 29 games, and that hurt Chicago’s defense quite a bit.
2016-17 Chicago Bulls — Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic
Remember this beautiful disaster? For the sake of Heat fans, let’s hope this doesn’t happen again.
2017-18 Minnesota Timberwolves — Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins, Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague, Jamal Crawford, Nemanja Bjelica, Gorgui Dieng
After a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2003-04, the Wolves didn’t return to the playoffs until 2017-18. Butler was the biggest change for a team that noticeably deteriorated the next season. Minnesota was 37-22 with Butler available during the 2017-18 campaign and he brought them a much-needed edge on the defensive end.
It shouldn’t be ignored that Towns is an elite offensive talent but, more than anything, the rest of this team was comprised of solid, yet unspectacular, role players and Butler did a lot.
2018-19 Philadelphia 76ers — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Tobias Harris
We arrive at the most recent iteration with the caveat that Butler did play ten games in Minnesota before memorably ejecting from the Target Center. From there, the Sixers rattled off a 35-20 record with Butler in the lineup, plus Harris didn’t arrive until later in the year.
Honestly, it is fair to say that this is the best collection of top-end talent that Butler was able to play with but, on the flip side, Philadelphia deployed very little depth, limiting the team’s overall ceiling. Butler fit well in some respects, as he served as the lead offensive option late in games, but the Sixers did suffer from spacing issues at times, which Butler didn’t always alleviate.
That brings us to the present day.
2019-20 Miami Heat — Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters, James Johnson, Meyers Leonard, Tyler Herro, Derrick Jones Jr.
On paper, this isn’t an overly enticing basketball team. The Heat won 39 games last season and, while going from Richardson to Butler is an upgrade, it isn’t as if Miami did much else with the roster. Even if both make more money than the market dictates they should, Hassan Whiteside is gone and Tyler Johnson isn’t walking through that door. One could reasonably expect more from Adebayo in his third season, but Dragic hasn’t been overly durable recently. This is an issue because he’s clearly the team’s second-best player when healthy.
The young duo of Adebayo and Winslow should be fun and solid, and the Heat can expect reasonable veteran production from Olynyk. Everything else is kind of up in the air, with Waiters running hot and cold, Johnson slipping last season, and the youthful duo of Herro and Jones not to be fully counted on at the highest levels just yet.