If Heat falter, Jimmy Butler will bear the blame. Fair or not.

Although other variables are at play, Jimmy Butler will bear the majority of the blame if the Heat's season ends in disappointment.
Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks
Miami Heat v Atlanta Hawks / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

With a demoralizing home loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, the Miami Heat are inching toward a season that ends in disappointment. 

Maybe the end will come in the play-in tournament. Or in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Either way, disappointment is on the horizon. 

And when that day comes Jimmy Butler will bear the blame for the 2023-24 Heat’s demise. He deserves some blame. No denying that after he's failed to play at a high level consistently. But all the blame? God no.

Just look at how the roster has been decimated by injuries. The Heat set a new franchise record with 35 different starting lineups this season when they still had 11 games to play.

Perhaps the Heat wouldn’t be in this free fall if Tyler Herro hadn’t recently missed 20 games with a foot injury. He averaged 20 points per game before that and 23 in his first four games back. But it's not enough time to shift the season's trajectory.

That’s just the start of it. 

On March 17, Duncan Robinson notched a season-high 30 points in a win over the Detroit Pistons. That could be his last joyful memory of the 2023-24 season. During that game, he suffered a back injury that left him mannequin-stiff the following day. He went on to miss five games then returned for five, but struggled and is now on the sidelines with no return in sight. 

Terry Rozier, meanwhile, recently suffered a neck injury that Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra labeled as “jacked up.” Even if he returns he may not be at 100% and those dazzling, toe-tap stepback three-pointers and 20-plus performances could suffer as a result of it. 

And then there are the less significant, but still impactful injuries like the heel injury that sidelined Kevin Love for 16 games and Josh Richardson’s season-ending shoulder surgery from early March. Richardson averaged 9.9 points and a 34.7% clip from three. His replacement Patty Mills has yet to net nine points in back-to-back games and averaged a 22% clip from three. 

Injuries happen, but this is a comical – and costly – amount. That's because it forces players to perform beyond what they’re capable of. 

Take Bam Adebayo for example. Adebayo is averaging 19.3 points and 10.5 rebounds – 1.3 more than last year. Furthermore, he has the fifth-best odds to win an NBA Defensive Player of the Year, according to Vegas Insider

That says bonafide big man, not season-dettering disappointment. But with injuries and Butler’s inability to morph into “Playoff Jimmy” fans may be tempted to blame him for not being a top-flight scorer while also providing his typical world-class defense.

A similar concept applies to role players like Nikola Jovic, Caleb Martin and Jaime Jaquez Jr. If they performed better, would the Heat have a better record? Duh. But over the course of this season, they have been far from disastrous. Plus, they’re making a combined $12.6 million which is 28% of what Butler makes this year. 

That’s why Butler’s performance in Wednesday night's loss was so frustrating. In a home game with massive playoff implications, Butler had a floor-high five turnovers and a paltry 12 points overall, including just two in the fourth quarter. 

This is why it's so easy to label Butler as the problem: He’s not taking over games at a rate Heat fans are accustomed to.

In the 2023 postseason, he averaged 7.4 points in fourth quarters. That average has come down to 4.5 points in fourth quarters this season.

Butler didn’t notch a single field goal in the final four minutes of the loss to the No. 6 seed Pacers on April 7. With the Heat down 107-105 to the 76ers, a potential play-in foe, on April 4, Butler missed a game-winning three-pointer. And in an embarrassing 110-108 March loss to the Wizards, Butler decided to shoot a game-winning three instead of driving to the rim. 

He clanked it. 

Afterwards, in a clip that went viral, Butler scoffed at a reporter who asked about his decision.

“I’m never going for the tie. Ever,” Butler said, shaking his head in subdued disgust. 

Therein lies why Butler is so easy to blame: Love him or hate him you can’t ignore him.

There's no looking away from the guy who led the No. 8 seed to the NBA Finals last year. Or in 2020 when he became the face of the COVID bubble after leading the No. 5 seed Heat to the Finals and hustling NBA contemporaries for coffee.

But the same goes for the less flattering side. Butler is the 34-year-old who entered this season seeking a contract extension in the $60 million range. And after 80 games of non-$60 million basketball will be the face of non-stop Hulu ads while donning a lime-green suit the late Craig Sager would deem tacky. 

In a recent ad, Butler told his Butler (get it?), “Playoffs is when I turn nuclear on a mother f*cker, ya heard?”

He better hope so. 

If his index finger can’t flip on that “Playoff Jimmy” switch and Miami falls, you can bet Heat fans' index fingers, meanwhile, will point to him as the problem. 

Even if the Heat have been decimated by injuries, and even if Butler has been the solution to the Heat’s problems since arriving in 2019, he’ll bear the blame because he’s Jimmy Butler. And Jimmy Butler will always be the center of attention.