Greg Cote

Why bold moves to get Jimmy Butler make Miami Heat -- and Pat Riley -- relevant again | Opinion

Pat Riley had no money to spend. His Miami Heat was not supposed to be a player in the NBA free agency period that commenced Sunday. The Heat was supposed to be a stuck-where-it-is bystander until 2020, or maybe even 2021.

Don’t underestimate Pat Riley. That might be the story here. Don’t underestimate his urgency. Don’t put the Heat’s 74-year-old president in the past tense just yet.

Everything about Miami’s financial circumstances suggested Riley might be able to sign a guppy this summer. Maybe. Certainly not a whale.


With the exception of the two championship parades that followed, Riley just had his best 24 hours as Heat team builder since LeBron James said he was taking his talents to South Beach nine years ago.

He made his biggest score since LeBron James in getting Jimmy Butler. And if Jimmy Butler isn’t quite an NBA whale, he’s good enough to fill a boat, to make the Heat a playoff team, to make this franchise -- and Riley -- relevant again.

The Heat give up Josh Richardson in the sign-and-trade with Philadelphia that nets Butler on a four-year, $141 million deal. Too bad to lose Richardson. But not too bad enough where you don’t make this deal, and without hesitation.

The Butler deal agreed to Sunday night was assured Monday when the Heat a found taker (Portland) for center Hassan Whitside and his enormous salary, a disgruntled player made expendable by young Bam Adebayo’s impressive rise.

So, in less than 24 hours and for only the cost of Richardson, Riley was able to 1) get Butler, 2) keep valuable guard Goran Dragic -- valuable to have on your roster or as a trade-able asset -- and 3) unload, in Whiteside, an overpriced player it seemed they’d be stuck with next season.

Not a bad day’s work for a team president some fans had been calling on to retire because his time had supposedly passed.

This certainly does not make Miami a championship contender. You cannot be that if Butler is your best player. But this makes Miami better, playoff-good, and certainly more interesting.

Riley moved now because there are no guarantees the next two summers. And a Heat roster fronted by Butler -- with Adebayo, Justise Winslow and top draft pick Tyler Herro leading the young core behind him -- will be more attractive to prospective future free agents than Miami was before landing Butler.

Riley has coveted Butler for awhile, and , now, Butler clearly wanted Miami. The NBA has become a league where top players choose their destinations, and this is the latest indication.

Jimmy Butler
Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat exchanges jerseys with Jimmy Butler of the Philadelphia 76ers after a game at American Airlines Arena in Miami on April 9, 2019. Wade has since retired, and Butler reportedly is now being traded to the Heat. Michael Reaves TNS

Houston and the L.A. Lakers were among others who also wanted Butler. But he wanted Miami, and the feeling was mutual.

Miami gets a 29-year-old (30 in September) 6-8 swing-man (small forward/shooting guard) who’s a 20-point scorer if you need him to be, a four-time NBA all-star and, maybe more important to Heat culture, a four-time all-defensive player.

He is a closer offensively, and the same on the other end. He’s a sharpshooter, big from 3’s, great at the foul line, checks all the boxes.

He fits here.

Quick aside: Butler and Dwyane Wade are close friends. They exchanged jerseys in April on Wade’s farewell retirement tour here. Both are Marquette guys. Butler signing with Miami will undoubtedly spark crazy speculation that this might somehow lure Wade out of retirement and back out onto the court.

Don’t bet on that. Anyone who follows Wade on social media is seeing a man who is devouring retirement, loving his new, less structured life.

Settle for this, Heat fans:

In Jimmy Butler, you just got the best guy since Wade.

And you just got a little star power back.

Not bad for a team with no money to spend in what was supposed to be a dead summer.

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