Jimmy Butler is on the verge of leading the Miami Heat to the NBA Finals in his first year with the team, and he’s also making the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers look foolish.
By now, most people should be familiar with Butler’s story. He was the 30th overall pick in the 2011 draft by the Bulls after playing his college ball at Marquette. Before that, though, Butler was actually playing junior college basketball, as he wasn’t a star high school player in Texas who was getting offers left and right like so many do.
During his rookie season with the Bulls in 2011-12, Butler only played 8.5 minutes per game. The rugged defender didn’t start to see real minutes until the 2012-13 campaign. That’s the season the Bulls played without former MVP Derrick Rose for the entire year, as the explosive point guard was recovering from his ACL tear.
Butler’s breakout season with the Bulls came in 2014-15. He not only averaged 20.0 points per game and made his first All-Star team, but the swingman won Most Improved Player of the Year. It was an incredible accomplishment for Butler, who was homeless at one point in Texas after his mom kicked him out of the house.
After the 2014-15 season, though, some members of the Bulls began to see Butler’s demeanor and persona change. He signed a five-year, $92.3 million contract with Chicago and started to see himself as the alpha of the team since Rose’s play was starting to decline following a multitude of injuries.
There were also some reports that Butler didn’t respect Rose’s work ethic and got into some locker room confrontations with Joakim Noah, though Jimmy insists he always looked up to those guys and learned from them.
In 2015-16, Butler put up 20.9 points per game and made his second-straight All-Star team. However, he publicly called out Chicago head coach Fred Hoiberg in the media and dressed in a different part of the locker room than his teammates. The Bulls missed the playoffs that season and underwent some changes in the offseason. Chicago traded Rose to the New York Knicks, let Noah walk in free agency, and signed veterans Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in free agency.
Butler, Wade and Rondo called themselves the “Three Alphas.” While Butler averaged 23.9 points per game and led the Bulls back to the playoffs, he and Wade were the subject of criticism after bashing their teammates through the media following a home loss. Rondo even took to Instagram to call out Butler and Wade for their leadership style, pointing out that his leaders on the Boston Celtics (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett) always kept everything in-house.
The Bulls’ execs at the time were Gar Forman and John Paxson. Both men were never convinced they could build the team around Butler since he was hard on his teammates and didn’t enjoy playing for Hoiberg. While Butler’s leadership style clearly isn’t for everyone, Forman and Paxson didn’t exactly surround Butler with the right pieces after the Rose trade.
In the 2017 playoffs, the Bulls lost to the Celtics in the first round after taking a 2-0 series lead. Chicago decided to embark on a rebuild by trading Butler to the Timberwolves on draft night for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the 2017 No. 7 pick, which wound up being Lauri Markkanen.
Since the Butler trade, the Bulls have been a walking disaster, while Butler has been to the playoffs each season. The do-it-all swingman reunited with Tom Thibodeau on the Timberwolves and helped guide the franchise to the playoffs in 2018 for the first time since 2004.
However, Butler had issues with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Jimmy felt like he couldn’t win with Towns and Wiggins as his sidekicks since both former No. 1 overall picks didn’t take practice and winning seriously. So, Butler requested a trade from the Timberwolves before the start of the 2018-19 season. He also had an infamous practice session where he verbally abused Towns and Wiggins.
At first, Thibodeau didn’t honor Butler’s trade request because he figured they would be terrible if a deal happened. However, the Timberwolves eventually traded Butler to the Sixers and Thibodeau was fired.
Everything Thibodeau predicted, though, came true. The Wolves were terrible without Butler, and Jimmy flourished with the Sixers playing alongside Joel Embiid. The All-Star got multiple standing ovations from the Philly crowd because they loved the energy and passion he played with.
But just like with the Bulls, Butler had issues with Sixers head coach Brett Brown. He called out Brown in a film session and was puzzled as to why he and Embiid were the only two guys on the club who cared about winning. The Sixers got to the second round of the 2019 playoffs, where they fell to the Toronto Raptors in seven games on that legendary shot by Kawhi Leonard.
Once 2019 free agency began, Butler knew he wasn’t going back to the Sixers. He and his agent executed a sign-and-trade deal with the Heat, and Butler was finally where he belonged. The five-time All-Star was playing for an organization that valued hard work and confrontation, two traits Butler lives his life on.
When Butler calls out a Heat teammate at practice, that said player isn’t going to get offended or his feelings hurt like Towns and Wiggins did in Minnesota and other young players did in Chicago. Why? Because everyone on the Heat knows Butler is just trying to make them better and do whatever it takes to win.
Whatever Jimmy Butler has been doing with the Heat is clearly working. The Bulls, Timberwolves and Sixers all face major questions moving forward, while Butler is living his best life with the Heat.
Maybe Chicago, Minnesota and Philadelphia should have embraced Butler for who he is and built a team full of guys who love to compete and win just as much as he does.