Jimmy Butler was well aware of what had to happen to join the Heat.
With no cap space and a team salary above the luxury tax line, the Heat found a way to land Butler through a sign-and-trade deal with the 76ers.
“I knew what had to happen to get to Miami and we were able to make it happen,” Butler said late Saturday night on a conference call with reporters. “I don’t know if it was as easy or as hard as everybody says it seemed on the internet, but I’m here. So I guess it worked out.”
As part of a four-team trade between the Heat, Blazers, Clippers and 76ers that became official Saturday with the NBA moratorium coming to an end, the Heat traded away wing Josh Richardson to the 76ers, Hassan Whiteside to the Trail Blazers and a protected 2023 first-round pick to the Clippers to acquire Butler from the 76ers, center Meyers Leonard from the Trail Blazers and cash considerations from the Clippers.
Butler, a four-time All-Star, signed a four-year, $142 million maximum contract with the Heat. He was eligible for a full five-year, $190 million max contract if he remained with the 76ers.
“I think the culture that this organization is about, obviously the players that they have, the players they have had in the past, it fits who I am, what I’m about, how I think, how I go about what I go about every day,” Butler said of what drew him to Miami. “And it’s a new home for me, to tell you the truth. Not to mention that one of my best friends and a brother in Dwyane Wade did a lot for this organization and is an amazing player. So he may have had a little bit of something to do with it, as well.”
The addition of Butler, who turns 30 in September, provides the Heat with the leading man it’s been chasing for the past few years. He averaged 18.7 points while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 34.7 percent from three-point range, 5.3 rebounds, four assists and 1.9 steals in 65 games (55 with the 76ers and 10 for the Timberwolves) last season.
Over Butler’s past five seasons, he’s averaged 21.2 points while shooting 46.1 percent from the field, 35.1 percent on threes and 84.9 percent from the free-throw line, to go with 5.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 332 regular-season games.
Butler is certainly expected to provide a lift to a Heat offense that was below average in almost every offensive category last season — 26th in points (105.7), 22nd in shooting percentage (45), 21st in three-point shooting percentage (34.9), 30th in free-throw percentage (69.5), 23rd in turnovers (14.7) and 26th in offensive rating (106.7 points per 100 possessions).
The 6-8 and 232-pound Butler is known as one of the league’s top two-way players. He’s made the NBA’s All-Defensive second team four times in his eight seasons and will fit in with a Heat organization that’s finished with a top-10 defensive rating in each of the past four seasons.
Acquiring a player of Butler’s caliber without cap space isn’t easy, especially when that player is a free agent. But the Heat found a way, in part because of his desire to be in Miami.
Butler named the Heat as his preferred destination while trying to push for a trade from the Timberwolves back in September. The Heat tried to trade for Butler then, but Riley eventually broke off trade negotiations with the Timberwolves to avoid them from lingering and he was eventually dealt to the 76ers in the middle of the season.
Butler’s close relationship with Wade also helped to make the Heat an attractive destination. They both played at Marquette, and the two played together on the Bulls during the 2016-17 season.
“He’s always said how nice Miami was,” Butler said of Wade’s influence. “Obviously, the weather and all that great stuff. But I’m talking about the organization and the people that’s in it and how they go about everything. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around him for a couple years now since my days in Chicago and it always seemed to come up one way or another of how great the people were, the culture that was there and obviously him winning championships and what that took.
“He would always say, ‘It would be a place for you. The type of guy you are, the mentality you have, the Heat culture, it just fits.’ We laugh about it now, but looking back it’s like: Damn, he kind of called how it could happen and how this would be a place that just fits me to a T. I’m fortunate for him putting that in my mind back then, helping me through this free agency process. That’s my guy. He will forever be that. He kind of doesn’t have a choice anyway. But I am grateful for him.”
And no, Butler doesn’t plan on filling the void the retired Wade left behind.
“I don’t think anybody can take over the role that Dwyane Tyrone Wade Jr. had here for this organization and for the game of basketball,” he said. “Here, across the globe, everybody kind of knows that Heat No. 3 jersey with his name on the back. I’m just fortunate and blessed enough to call him a friend, a mentor, a role model, all of those great things.
“But, yeah, it would have been great to play with him while he was here. But at least I got to play against him in his last home game.”
In the past, Butler’s unrelenting competitiveness has created some issues.
Butler criticized his teammates in Chicago for not delivering effort on a consistent basis and not taking losses as hard as they should, and he was traded to Minnesota a few months later.
When Butler was traded to the Timberwolves, he ran into similar issues. After completing his first season with Minnesota, he requested a trade just weeks before the start of the 2018-19 season in part because of his belief that not all of his teammates were committed to winning.
The Heat, which has missed the playoffs in three of the past five seasons, has never shied away from that personality type, though. Miami’s hope is the addition of Butler is just the first step forward, with assets on the roster to trade for another star if the opportunity presents itself and enough cap space for another max player expected to be available in the 2021 offseason.
“That is was headed in the right direction,” Butler said of the long-term plan the Heat sold him on. “I don’t try to get, or we don’t try to get too far ahead of ourselves right now. I’m still basking in the moment that I’m here. This happened today basically. I feel I have to live for the right now. And then, whenever we start to talk about that and move forward on that type of stuff, that’s the next step. As for right now, I’m just happy to be able to be in this 100-degree weather right now and be around the great people in this organization.”