It didn’t take long for Jimmy Butler to realize what he had heard about the Heat was true.
After the first few days of training camp in early October, the four-time All-Star wing player learned what he thought he had signed up for as a free agent this past summer was actually what he signed up for.
“Training camp was everything I wanted it to be and everything I thought it would be,” Butler said. “Constant work, constant competition, and attention to detail was really, really up there. Really, really important. It makes me smile because I legit love that... I do.”
The Heat also knew pretty quickly Butler was as advertised.
“Everything we anticipated and what we heard about him and what we respected about him being on the other side of him in competition has turned out to be true,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s a fierce competitor. Winning matters to him, and the process and details and accountability that is required to win, he’s very demanding of those things. So are we, and that’s why we think it’s a good fit.”
As Butler, 30, begins his first season with the Heat in Wednesday’s opener against the Grizzlies at AmericanAirlines Arena, only time will tell how good the fit truly is.
But through three weeks of practices and preseason games, Butler has followed the Heat’s mantra of being “the hardest-working, best-conditioned, most professional, unselfish, toughest, nastiest, most-disliked team in the NBA.” From 3:30 a.m. workouts, to playing the role of facilitator this preseason to help lift his teammates’ confidence, to his polarizing personality.
“So much of this league is about the proper alignment with your organization and the type of players that you get, and making sure that everybody is on the same sheet of music and that you value the same things — right or wrong,” Spoelstra said. “You have to have alignment just to give yourself a chance against the competition.
“Jimmy is a culture fit. He’s a style-of-play fit. He’s a personality fit with us. That doesn’t guarantee anything, that’s just a start. But it’s a good foundation to begin with.”
Butler’s skill set certainly helps, too.
Aside from making the NBA’s All-Defensive second team four times in his eight seasons, Butler has averaged 21.2 points while shooting 46.1 percent from the field, 35.1 percent on threes and 84.9 percent shooting from the free-throw line, 5.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists in 332 regular-season games over the past five seasons.
Pair the talent with Butler’s well-known unrelenting competitiveness, and he has even drawn comparisons to the original poster child for Heat culture Alonzo Mourning. Mourning, who is now a Heat executive, and Butler have already developed a relationship.
“Jimmy’s mentality is very, very similar,” Spoelstra said of the comparison. “Just in terms of how fierce of a competitor he is and he wears his competitiveness on his sleeve. He has a work ethic that is very comparable to Zo, tireless and fully committed to the process.”
Butler’s competitiveness hasn’t always been well received by his coaches and teammates, though. He 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 is the fourth team Butler has played for in nine NBA seasons.
“Winning is his No. 1 priority,” Spoelstra said. “If that comes at the expense of people liking him or not, I don’t think he gives a damn. We’re pretty similar about that as an organization.”
The Heat’s way of doing things just seems to align with Butler’s personality.
“You get what you see from me,” Butler said. “You get what you see with this team, these coaches, the organization. That’s what we’re here to do, win. I don’t care how we’re going to do it. We don’t even know how we’re going to do it right now. But we’re going to figure it out and we’re going to win. So for everybody else that wants to count us out, it’s OK. It ain’t like we really give two shits anyway. We stick to who we got in this building, who we got in this organization, and we’re riding with us.”