Miami Heat offseason mailbag: Will Jimmy Butler really get traded?

Plus, have the Heat already started planning for the post-Butler future?
Apr 7, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA;  Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) in the first half
Apr 7, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) in the first half / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to the Miami Heat offseason mailbag! Every week, I’ll jump on here and try my best to answer your questions and provide some explanations during what should be an eventful summer. Let’s do it.

As always, thanks to everyone who sent in questions on X. It’s also where you can send future mailbag questions.

This is a great point, and I do think it’s what the Heat were thinking about, not just when they inserted Nikola Jovic into the starting lineup, but also when they drafted him with the 27th pick in the 2022 draft. 

The Heat have known for a couple of years now that they needed to get bigger at the non-center positions. Look at their last two draft picks: Jaime Jaquez Jr. was selected knowing they needed more size on the wing. Then there’s Jovic, who provided the type of ball skills and shooting needed to space the floor next to Bam Adebayo. You could even look to 2020’s pick of Precious Achiuwa as an acknowledgement that the Heat needed more size.

But the Heat also need more options. Jovic, as Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley suggested during their end-of-season press conferences, has a promising future but is not ready for the highest levels of postseason basketball and needs more seasoning. I expect the Heat to pursue a veteran frontcourt player this summer.

Adebayo has been nudged to take more 3s in part to open up the options Miami has in pursuing another frontcourt partner. If Bam becomes a real 3-point threat, the Heat don’t have to acquire someone who spaces the floor (like Kelly Olynyk or Meyers Leonard) and can add value in other areas.

The move away from Jimmy’s timeline already happened. 

Look at the age of the core players on the roster: Adebayo (26), Tyler Herro (24), Jaquez (23), Jovic (20), Duncan Robinson (30) and Terry Rozier (30). 

Acquiring Rozier could be viewed as a hedge between the Jimmy and Bam timelines, but consider that they traded Butler’s best friend, Kyle Lowry, and got eight years younger at the position, and that was a youth-related move just as much as it was a talent upgrade.

It’s also why the Heat were reluctant to part with all of their assets in a deal for 33-year-old Damian Lillard.

The last time the Heat operated with Butler’s timeline as the priority was in the summer of 2021, when they traded for Lowry and signed PJ Tucker. 

(Quick aside: That 2021-22 season, for my money, Miami’s best chance at winning a championship even though they missed making the Finals by a shot. They were the No. 1 seed, Butler was at the peak of his powers, Tyler Herro was coming off the bench, Tucker and Lowry rounded out the roster and had good seasons. They had the physicality and gumption to push the Warriors in the 2022 Finals.)

Since then, the Heat have been reluctant to part with draft picks and the roster has only gotten younger.

No matter what happens with Butler’s extension, he will only have two or three years left on his contract and will be either 36 or 37 when it expires. Adebayo is entering his prime, has been named the team captain and is the player other stars in the NBA want to play with. 

The Heat are already operating on Bam’s timeline. Any additions they make will be geared toward maximizing his, not Butler’s. If there’s a deal does both, even better.

I don’t know what’s going to happen but here’s what I struggle with: How do we get from here to a point where the Heat and Butler are happy?

First, from the Heat’s perspective.

  • Pat Riley has already indicated that the Heat don’t want to give Butler a maximum extension given his lack of availability. Even if Butler and his agent Bernie Lee promise Butler will be more available, well, Riley revealed they had that conversation last summer and it didn’t happen.
  • Miami’s preference, it seems, would be for Butler to play out the remaining two years of his contract ($48.8 million this coming season and a $52.4 million player option for the following season).
  • Maybe they would be willing to extend Butler, but not to the maximum two-year, $113 million.
  • The Heat also know, despite what they have said publicly, that they need to upgrade the roster. They have tried to make major upgrades each of the past three summers and will try again.
  • But trading Herro, young players and picks hasn’t been able to get them that star player yet. So what reason do they have to believe that package can work this summer? Still, they’ll try.

Now, from Butler’s perspective.

  • Butler, according to reports, is expected to ask for the max extension.
  • If the Heat don’t give it to him (as they have indicated they won’t), would Butler be willing to take less money for an extra year? Especially if teams like the Philadelphia 76ers make it known that they are willing to pay the full maximum extension?
  • Would Butler then seek a trade?
  • And if the Heat ask Butler to play out the season and revisit things next summer? Butler will be 35 next season. He’s motivated to sign his next contract now, before he’s older and has another year of wear and tear. Even if Butler were to opt out next season, he’d be leaving $52 million on the table and there’s no guarantee he would get that money elsewhere.

In other words, the Heat have every reason to not want to sign him to an extension, and Butler has every reason to want the extension. 

Perhaps he’d be willing to take less money for another year – say, two years at $90 million. But if the max offer is out there from a team like the 76ers or Houston Rockets, it could be tempting. Butler staying in Miami might take a hometown discount. He has said he wants to retire with the Heat and maybe he will, but he’s also never given up money before.

All I know is that I never thought Dwyane Wade would leave for money and he did. It would suck for 22 to be wearing a different jersey, but I’m preparing for anything.

Jimmy gets extended: I shop a package of young players and picks and try to find an All-Star caliber player who can play 70-plus games and lead the Heat in scoring during the regular season. (Did you know the Heat didn’t have a single player finish the season in the top 40 in scoring? There are only 30 teams in the league! The Heat made the playoffs! That’s WILD.)

No extension and stays: I still think this is unlikely, but the approach is the same as the first option. I’ll remind you that they have tried to trade young players and picks for an All-Star over the last two years and haven’t been able to get a deal done.

Jimmy gets traded: Trade Butler for the stuff that you need to trade for an All-Star to pair with Bam. We know the Heat don’t want to take a step back, but if Butler forced their hand then one hypothetical trade construction could involve trading Butler to Philadelphia for multiple draft picks, then using those picks to sweeten a package going to Cleveland for Donovan Mitchell. Just an idea.

Last summer, Heat executives told Tyler Herro that he wouldn’t be traded unless it was for a future Hall of Famer. I wonder if they are forced to backtrack on that this year.

Herro is a talented player but this season showed his ceiling is that of a complementary scorer, not a main driver of your offense. That’s fine! If Herro’s future is as a sixth man, well, he has the hardware proving he’s already an elite one. 

So what teams can use an elite sixth man to juice their offense? The Heat could shop Herro around that way, with lower expectations for a return. It’s too early to guess what specific role players the Heat could get, but the Heat could use a veteran big to pair with Adebayo and two-way wing depth.

It would also help if the Heat took back less money in a deal considering they are just $5 million away from the second tax apron. 

If the Heat can’t land a star, then they will need to explore trading one of their big contracts (Butler, Adebayo, Herro, Rozier, Robinson) in order to justify the team’s payroll.

So in this scenario the Heat’s depth chart would look like…

G: Terry Rozier / Josh Richardson
G: Duncan Robinson / Tyler Herro
F: Jimmy Butler / Jaime Jaquez Jr.
F: Nikola Jovic / Haywood Highsmith
C: Bam Adebayo / Kevin Love / Thomas Bryant

… plus one or two rookies and a veteran minimum signing.

If they stay healthy, that’s a solid playoff team. But Butler wil be a year older and has shown he can’t be the top scorer for 60-plus games in the regular season, there could still be some complications with bringing Herro off the bench, and the Heat will be in need of frontcourt depth. I’ll also remind you that this team has a hard time staying healthy, like, every season. A healthy season would be an unexpected exception.

Where does that group rank in a conference with the Celtics, the 76ers (who have $55 million in cap space and are expected to make significant upgrades), the Bucks (who will tighten some screws this summer) and the rising Knicks, Pacers and Magic?

Running it back isn’t out of the question, but returning a roster with a top-six payroll that has been in the play-in tournament for two straight years could be a tough sell to the Arisons.

I don’t see the Heat taking a major step back into the lottery for a couple of reasons. First, they don’t control two of their future picks. Second, they desperately want to vault forward after being on the doorstep of a championship in three of the last five seasons.

If the Heat do trade Butler, it will be for assets that could help them finally procure the star they’ve had such a hard time landing the last two seasons. One who fits Bam’s timeline and stretches out the championship window so that the front office can create some flexibility in building out the next era of Heat basketball. It wouldn’t surprise me if any Butler trade is a multi-team deal that pushes the team into that new era.