Can Jimmy Butler prove 'Playoff Jimmy' era isn't dying?

With signs suggesting that the end of the ‘Playoff Jimmy’ era is coming, Butler must prove it isn’t. His first NBA championship may hinge upon it. 
Toronto Raptors v Miami Heat
Toronto Raptors v Miami Heat / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

By letting Jimmy Butler hum through this regular season, the Miami Heat have made one thing clear: They feel fine paying him $40-plus million per season so long as he produces in the postseason. 

And for good reason. This playoff payoff has resulted in three Eastern Conference finals and two NBA Finals. But that’s the thing — it worked. So what happens if it doesn’t? 

By all means that could be happening now. Butler has been more "Non-factor Jimmy" than "Playoff Jimmy" and the Heat could get bounced in the play-in tournament because of it. 

With signs suggesting that the end of the "Playoff Jimmy" era is coming, Butler must prove it isn’t. His first NBA championship may hinge upon it. 

The Heat should hope so, too. If 2024 ends disappointingly, Miami may wonder if Butler is the right person to continue to build around. Though Butler’s impressed, his brilliance does have a ceiling. There’s a reason why the Heat haven’t hoisted a Larry O’Brien in the Butler era. 

Just take last year. Yes, Butler did lead Miami from the play-in tournament to the NBA Finals. That’s beyond remarkable – but – the Heat had no chance of toppling the Denver Nuggets. They endured a gentleman’s sweep and lost by double digits three times. 

Here’s the frightening thing: That was when Butler revealed hints that "Playoff Jimmy" was coming in March and April. So what’ll happen this season when he’s underwhelmed?

This year was the first time he averaged less than 20 points in the final two months of the season since joining the Heat (minimum of nine games played). Furthermore, he’s failed to produce an iconic takeover game. In several key games, Butler’s been practically invisible on the offensive end. No better example than a recent loss to the Philadelphia 76ers: The Heat’s opponent in Wednesday’s play-in tournament

In that bout, Butler missed a go-ahead three-pointer with eight seconds left, turned the ball over at the 1:14 mark and totaled zero points in the final six minutes. Clearly costly, the Heat blew a seven-point lead after scoring five points in the final seven minutes.

To compound the stress, the Heat enter Wednesday without Terry Rozier (neck injury); a premier offensive weapon who has notched those iconic late-game takeovers Butler couldn't.

Sure, the Heat’s season won’t end Wednesday if they fall to the No. 7 seed 76ers. But there’s no guarantee they’ll escape a sudden death matchup with either the No. 10 seed Atlanta Hawks or No. 9 seed Chicago Bulls on Friday.

And in the scenario they do escape the play-in, they’ll have to face the No. 1 seed Boston Celtics or No. 2 seed New York Knicks. 

In Boston, they face the first team since the 2012-13 Miami Heat to win the East by 10 or more games. Meanwhile, in New York, they’ll meet Jalen Brunson, who averaged a whopping 35.9 points per game in April. Still not worried? I haven’t mentioned what the West has to offer. 

But maybe the Heat entering this postseason as an underdog is exactly what Butler needed.

This takes us to a postseason preview ad released by the NBA on Tuesday. It featured a slew of cameos from NBA stars – Jayson Tatum, Nikola Jokic and Brunson – and celebrities – Lil Wayne and Guy Fieri – all denying "playoff mode."

This, of course, is a nod to Butler and a quote he gave after uncorking 56 points to topple the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks last year. Though the likely reason Butler wasn’t included is because he’s in the play-in tournament, the sentiment remains: Jimmy Butler is an afterthought. 

Intentional or not, Butler was disrespected. Which is why it’s easy to imagine him watching it with a smirk growing on his face. Knowing very well that it’s time to – as he recently put it – go “nuclear on a mother f*cker.”