Miami Heat superstar Jimmy Butler is undoubtedly the uncrowned MVP of the 2020 NBA playoffs so far.
His move to South Beach this offseason actually flew under the radar compared to the other high-profile transactions in the last free agency period.
But after leading the 5th-seeded Heat team all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, a lot of NBA GMs are left wondering why didn’t make a stronger push to acquire the two-way superstar.
Jimmy Butler’s impressive resume actually speaks for itself. He is a 5-time NBA All-Star, 3-time All-NBA Third Team member, 4-time NBA All-Defensive Second Team member, and a Most Improved Player awardee in 2015. Butler is also a consummate winner, as he never missed the playoffs in his first nine seasons so far.
However, teams were scared of Butler’s rather notorious reputation and rocky relationship with all three organizations he used to play for.
The 6-foot-7 swingman is a fierce competitor, who demands absolute dedication from his teammates. While this driven personality is indeed needed to win a championship in this league, his dog-eat-dog mentality isn’t exactly everybody’s cup of tea.
Jimmy Buckets does have quite the rap sheet. His highly-publicized feud with the Chicago Bulls’ front office was the stuff of every GM’s nightmares. It also didn’t help that his next two stops with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers also ended in rather brief and unceremonious exits.
Playing through adversity is nothing new for Butler, and he likely remembers every insult thrown his way. Let’s recall three of the worst labels unfairly given to Butler.
Jimmy Butler’s rise from a tough upbringing is indeed one of the best stories in all of professional sports. He overcame homelessness at a young age and basically willed himself out of obscurity to become a basketball superstar.
Knowing the hardships he had to endure early in his life, it’s quite hard to picture a guy who came from nothing being labeled as an entitled, egocentric individual. However, that was the image that was painted of Butler throughout his tumultuous stint with the Bulls.
Butler was the team’s 30th pick out of Marquette in the 2011 draft. Chicago already had an MVP player by the time in Derrick Rose, and Butler had to fight for his minutes just to get into the team’s rotation. Rose’s injuries in the coming seasons allowed Jimmy to become the top-dog of that gritty Bulls team.
The 31-year-old winger was never afraid to call out his teammates and even the coaches for the slightest displays of ineptitude. Butler questioned the desire of the team’s younger players in the 2016-17 season, earning him a hefty fine. He was also removed from the starting line-up of the following game as a punishment.
Some of his Bulls teammates, meanwhile, reportedly felt that Butler received preferential treatment from the Bulls brass. He was heavily criticized for flying separately from the rest of his team following a regular-season game in the 2015-16 campaign. At the height of the Bulls’ dysfunction, Butler was unfairly blamed for supposedly being the catalyst of a split locker room in the Windy City.
Following the departure of Rose and Joakim Noah from the team in 2016, Butler fired back at critics who claimed he was responsible for that chaotic mess.
“Am I a diva? I don’t call it that,’’ Butler told the Chicago Sun-Times. “My will to win rubs people the wrong way sometimes. I can blame it on that, but won’t apologize for it. Never will.”
“As far as that talk goes, I don’t care. I’m going to keep working and if people don’t like it, people want to say what they want to say, that’s fine. I know, and I think these guys know, where my heart is and how I want to do right by everybody.’’
“Locker room cancer”
While most players hold their tongue as far issues with authority is concerned, Jimmy Butler is the complete opposite. He boldly called out former Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg for supposedly not coaching the team hard enough.
“I’m sorry, I know Fred is a laid-back guy and I really respect him for that but when guys aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, you have to get on guys — myself included,” he said back in 2015.
This one remark opened a can of worms for Butler and the Bulls, as more issues began surfacing in the aftermath of Butler’s trade to the Timberwolves in 2017. Some reports claimed that Jimmy Buckets refused to socialize with the team off the floor and frequently fought with each other when things went poorly during games.
“There is a sense that Butler relishes the trappings of stardom a bit too much and that he doesn’t do enough to support his teammates, as a playmaker or a cheerleader,” Zach Lowe said of Butler in an ESPN report.
While Butler did lead the Wolves back to the playoffs in the 2017-18 season, the same drama unfolded after Minnesota got eliminated in the first round. Instead of providing leadership for the team’s two young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, Butler reportedly hindered their progression by constantly being in their ear the entire time. He demanded a trade prior to the 2019-19 season, and got his wish in November when they shipped him to the Sixers.
He faced a similar scenario in Philly, joining another pair of promising youngsters in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. After that heartbreaking Game 7 loss to Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors in the second round of the 2019 playoffs, Butler packed his bags in free agency and moved to Miami. Pundits were once again critical of the Texas-native, claiming he once again clashed with Embiid and Simmons. Butler has vehemently denied these claims.
“I didn’t have a problem with either one of them,” he said. “Still talk to those dudes. I wish them the absolute best. A career of great health, make as much money as you can, win as many championships as you can. I did not have a problem with any of those guys. It just didn’t work the way that we wanted it to work. That’s life. Not everything pans out the way you want it to pan out. But you learn and you move on from it.”
His current head coach Erik Spoelstra has also refuted reports that Butler is quite the headache to deal with.
Spoelstra on Butler: "Jimmy, despite probably what the narrative is out there, he's a very likable guy in the locker room and I think that helps in a setting like this."
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) September 1, 2020
Perhaps the worst thing that was said of Jimmy Butler was that he is a toxic teammate to be around with. This remark came to life in the now-infamous Timberwolves practice back in 2018. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Butler completely antagonized the Wolves’ starting unit by teaming up with reserves and demolishing them in an expletive-filled scrimmage. He also publicly criticized Towns and Wiggins for being “soft”.
All-Star Jimmy Butler participated in Minnesota's practice, a session that included him verbally challenging teammates, coaches and front office, league sources told ESPN. Butler was vociferous and emotional at times, targeting Thibodeau/Layden/Towns/Wiggins. Story soon on ESPN.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 10, 2018
At one point in a scrimmage, sources said, Butler turned to GM Scott Layden and screamed, "You (bleeping) need me. You can't win without me." Butler left teammates and coaches largely speechless. He dominated the gym in every way. Jimmy's back.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) October 10, 2018
This incident occurred at the height of Butler’s displeasure with KAT and Wiggins’ supposed lack of fire and desire to be great. Butler felt the pair just coasted through their God-given talents, something that won’t fly with Butler who had to work tirelessly for everything he has now. The writing was on the wall for his tenure in Minny after that outburst.
More fingers were pointed on Butler when he left the City of Brotherly Love last year. He claimed that he did not know “who the f–k was in charge” with that team, citing the lack of leadership in that youth-laden squad.
Upon Butler’s signing with Miami, Heat legend Chris Bosh had this interesting take.
“Tension is good. Healthy tension is good. And I think Jimmy brings that,” he said. “That’s one of the points I always like to make when I say ‘tension,’ because people take that as a bad thing. People might take that as a bad thing, but sometimes locker-room tension is good, and a healthy dose of it, of team tension, is good, because you have to perform.”
Miami Heat-lifer Udonis Haslem, meanwhile, pretty much summed up why Butler had problems in other teams but perfectly feels right at home in South Beach.
“You put him in the cage with a bunch of cats, he’s gonna growl. You put him in a kennel with a bunch of dogs, he’s gonna be right at home,” he said.