Even amidst the fun and games of Miami Heat Media Day, deals for Jimmy Butler silently circulated in the background.
Media Day in the NBA is a lot like the first day of school.
Everyone is dressed to the nines in freshly woven Nike jerseys. Unsuspecting walls are once again made into video backdrops, plastered with the familiar dark blue NBA print. And sometimes, that one kid with a bundle of energy, finds his way to the apex of the gymnasium’s basketball hoop.
As Udonis Haslem scaled a regulation height rim to stand on the backside of the backboard – completely sans harness, mind you – fellow Heat forward Kelly Olynyk looked on, mindfully capturing the feat on his phone like dozens of others.
Haslem’s act, one which he gleefully described as his “last stance” to Dwyane Wade’s “last dance” symbolized the generally merry atmosphere that permeated Miami’s media day. The day was filled with fun and smiles, despite the lingering sensation that this time next year there won’t be a Haslem testing fate amid an amazed crowd of scribes.
Even sooner than that however, Miami will leave its tomfoolery at the door. The roster will don its meanest mugs in training camp and the team’s first pre-season game on September 30.
Despite the respite that media day provides, it’s all business for the rest of the week, as a handful of players make their cases for inclusion on Miami’s full-time roster.
In fact, Media Day exacerbated this problem more than anything else.
Even as head coach Erik Spoelstra spews congratulatory remarks up and down the roster, the problem remains that one or more of his versatile and goofy ballplayers, could be wearing a Fitbit branded Minnesota Timberwolves jersey by week’s end.
The Jimmy Butler sweepstakes, which were purposely excluded from Miami’s Media Day extravaganza, is equal parts excitement and anxiety for the Miami Heat and its fan base.
Butler represents everything that the Heat have been clamoring for since 2016. He is a proven star, who in the right situation, will empower the players around him, naturalizing the concept of working overtime in the process.
Where Butler butted heads in Minnesota – with reportedly lazy, young players and a coach trapped in his own Chicago Bulls themed version of Groundhog Day – he would excel in Miami. The Heat regularly tout their embrace of keeping graveyard shift hours, not leaving the gym until each player surpasses his personal best.
As a former bench piece himself, Butler would fit in fine in Miami.
Selected No. 30 overall in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft, his path to prominence mirrors the aspirations of Miami’s youth, encompassing a jump from obscurity to universal acclaim.
But on the other side of that hope lay the realization that Miami will have to relinquish at least one of its young pieces to satisfy the terms of an exchange. Minnesota’s biggest needs fall in its defensive categories, which will assuredly drop with Butler’s departure.
Miami can easily form a package to satiate those needs.
Sacrificing those names however, would dim the cheery, back-to-school atmosphere Miami has crafted thus far. For all of the team’s shortcomings – third quarters, staying healthy, etc. – it has proven chemistry is not one of them.
Bisecting the team for a chance at a single year of Butler, could be the undoing of the amicable house the Heat built.
Basketball, first and foremost, is a business in which success is measured in wins and championships. Any deal involving Butler would surely advance the business interests of the Miami Heat, spurring a team hovering around .500 towards the top of the Eastern Conference.
As a prototype for the NBA’s preferred brand of wing, Butler is the basketball equivalent of a four-across bar in Tetris. It would be harder to find a situation in which he didn’t fit, than trying to slot him into a formula for success.
Butler believes as much too, having began his list of preferred teams with the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers, none of which had a playoff berth in 2018.
Recently he’s expanded on the list, adding Miami to its rankings.
His “never give up” mentality sees Butler stick with plays, even after conventional basketball wisdom suggests deferring to his teammates.
Still, Butler’s lone year remaining on his contract (after which he can opt out) would be an incredible gamble if his presence proves more hostile to Miami’s culture than not.
Minnesota will be the second team Butler has forced his way out of.
While Miami is versed in dealing with unhappy players (see: Wade, 2016, Whiteside, 2018, Shaquile O’Neal, 2008) the team has reached a point of balance between high talent ceiling and an all-in, group minded mentality.
As Media Day wraps in South Beach and the NBA ends another day with Butler in Minnesota, the Miami Heat have a deal of soul searching to complete.
Heat Culture has taken precedent over every player to walk the AmericanAirlines Arena’s halls in red, white and black.
Continuing to profess that culture is paramount in Miami’s future success.