The Heat have a Jimmy Butler problem, and it will only get worse

Miami's main issue concerning their best player will continue to become more urgent over time.
Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat / Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Heat have been one of the premier franchises in the NBA for a long time. Ever since Pat Riley and his standard of excellence have overlapped with the organization, Heat Culture has become intertwined in the fabric of everything the Heat does. No one is beyond reproach, and the ultimate team goal is greater than the talents or ambitions of any one individual.

That is why Jimmy Butler was such a seamless fit with the team when he was signed-and-traded back in the summer of 2019. Jimmy's relentless work ethic, ability to elevate his performance in the postseason and be a leader have been invaluable in this era in Miami, and he is the main reason the team has been to two of the last five NBA Finals series.

But ultimately, the Heat have been unable to get over the hump under Butler's tutelage and achieve the ultimate goal of winning a championship. You can chalk that up to several factors — in 2020 Bam Adebayo was forced to miss one-third of the Finals due to injury, and in 2023 Jimmy's ankle injury clearly had him playing below his standards for much of the latter half of the playoffs.

On the injury front, this past season was much of the same story. Butler missed 22 games due to a variety of injuries, including multiple knee and ankle problems. When the playoffs arrived, he was unable to go at all, missing all five of Miami's games in the first round against Boston.

Jimmy Butler's age will continue to be an issue

Of course, after the series was over, Jimmy was happy to publicly state that the Celtics and Knicks would be at home if he had been playing. As a competitor, it is perfectly fine for Butler to believe this, but Pat Riley clearly took issue with it being said publicly. However, the bigger issue remains that he was not on the court when it mattered most.

Yes, Boston has been a juggernaut this season, and the likelihood Miami takes them down even with Jimmy on the court is probably low. But in an otherwise wide open conference and given their history of going toe-to-toe with the Celtics, it would have been nice for the Heat's best player to have been on the court so we would have known for sure.

In the end, this represents Miami's Jimmy Butler problem. The bottom line is that he will be 35 years old at the start of next season, and he is likely not going to become any less injury-prone. Jimmy is as tough as they come both mentally and physically, and having him at full strength on your roster in the playoffs is of course a major boost.

But what the Heat do not want is to end up like the Clippers. For years now, the story in Los Angeles has been, "Well, if only Kawhi Leonard had been healthy in the playoffs, things would have been different." The scary part of this comparison is the fact that Butler is two years older than Leonard. Miami should be very wary of continuing to bank on the health of an aging star that may or may not be available when all the chips are on the table.