MIAMI — On Friday, Jimmy Butler sat in front of a small media gathering for the first official time as a member of the Miami Heat. He was all smiles. Personable. He donned his new No. 22 jersey. He was asked repeatedly about his reputation as a tough guy to get along with, and perhaps play with, and Butler was quick to point out: “I’m not an asshole like everybody thinks I am.”
With that, here are five big takeaways from Butler’s press conference, where team president Pat Riley, who called Butler a “top-10 player” in the NBA, also spoke at length with the media.
1. Culture, toughness, and more culture
This word came up about a thousand times on Friday. Reporters used it to frame questions. Butler referenced it time and again on what he loves most about the Heat as a franchise. Pat Riley said he’s “proud” of the culture that the Heat have built, and that Butler is going to find out that playing for the Heat “is hard.” That’s just the way Butler likes it.
“I like that our shootarounds are what they’re supposed to be, we’re breaking a sweat,” Butler said. “I like that we compete in practice every single day. It’s never ‘just go through the motions.’ That’s how I got where I am today. It was never coming in and just going through the motions. It was always a grind. It was always a fight. I think when I look up and down the roster, the guys we have go about it the same way.”
Butler, of course, was asked repeatedly about the, shall we say, dustups he’s had at some of his past stops in the NBA, which to him, all stemmed from the same thing: He works hard, competes, and plays to win every single second he’s on a basketball floor, and when other guys don’t do that, there’s going to be a problem.
“If you do what I do every day, and other people don’t go about it that way, I think you might have a problem with it, too,” Butler said. “I love my job, I love the game. I love to work. I’m at this every single day, at hours and times that people don’t want to do it. So I think: ‘Why doesn’t everybody do what I do?’
“To this day I just don’t understand it. I really don’t,” Butler continued. “Will I ever understand it? Probably not. Will I overreact? Probably so. But that’s me. And to tell you the truth, [here with the Heat], you’ve always got people trying to beat me to gym. You’ve always got people here late at night, that are constantly working on their game, studying film, doing all they can to be the best basketball player they can. And I’ll hold them [as accountable] as I have everybody else. You gotta work. Because when the game is on the line, your confidence is coming from your work. I preach that. I live by that.”
For approximately 30 minutes, probably 75 percent of the questions and answers were a variation on these themes of toughness and accountability. Butler loves talking about that stuff and he believes in the culture in Miami.
2. Jimmy loves him some Tyler Herro
The Heat took Tyler Herro, a 19-year-old sharpshooter out of Kentucky, with the 13th pick in this past June’s draft. He looked great in Las Vegas summer league, but again, Butler didn’t seem as concerned with Herro’s game — what he likes is the young man’s attitude.
“I love that kid,” Butler said. “I talk [trash] to him, and he’s coming back with it every time. … That kid got some s–t to him. He always got something to say. And I respect it, because that shows me he’s got that fight. He’s not backing down from anybody.”
Riley echoed similar sentiments, calling Herro a “humble” guy off the court, but one that will compete with anyone between the lines. Herro figures to play a big role for Miami this season. He’ll space the floor as a knock-down 3-point shooter in Miami’s drive-and-kick attack, but people are going to find out he can make plays off the dribble, too. He really has a good feel for how to leverage his shot into space and angles and has a good handle.
Herro could also end up being part of a package if the Heat go after a big-name trade. Everyone has heard the Chris Paul chatter, but Paul would likely be gettable for something less than a 19-year-old lottery pick, perhaps just expiring money and a future pick. Now, if Bradley Beal were ever to show up on the radar, Herro might be a candidate to be moved. But either way, Miami really likes Herro. Butler LOVES him. And as we’ve seen, Butler liking who he’s playing with is worth a lot.
3. Balancing the ‘point guard’ duties
A few weeks back, Justise Winslow made it known that he considers himself a point guard and that he wants to play that role for the Heat moving forward. Winslow played pretty darn well in this role when Goran Dragic went down last season, but the problem is: Dragic is back this season, and besides that, Butler figures to be handling the ball and initiating pick-and-roll offense quite a bit.
But as Butler rhetorically, and rightly, asked: “What is a point guard nowadays?”
“Anybody can bring the ball up the court and initiate the offense,” Butler continued. “But I think we have so many guys that can be the quote-unquote point guard, because they can make other guys better. You can balance it. The whole thing is just about making everybody happy and OK with their role. I like Justise in that position. He’s smart, he’s aggressive, he can guard, he can switch with anybody, and he damn sure doesn’t back down from anybody.”
There’s that “not backing down” theme again. And it’s true. Winslow is tough as hell, almost like a young Jimmy Butler as a tough, defensive-minded player starting to evolve as a shooter/playmaker. You can see those two getting along great, and they should complement each other well. Yes, they’re both capable of initiating offense. Not to mention that Dragic will likely provide some balance which will prevent anyone from wearing down too much over the course of the regular season. But in the playoffs, in the highest-leverage possessions, Winslow is not going to get the same kind of respect as an off-the-dribble shooter out of pick-and-rolls.
That big-time scorer to initiate offense when you flat out need a bucket is something the Heat have really missed in recent years. Butler is that guy, and Winslow could be on his way if his shooting continues to improve. Miami can put out some good defensive lineups and some good offensive lineups built around both those guys, along with Bam Adebayo. But can they find that one go-to winning-time lineup that provides enough offense and defense to compete with the best teams?
Butler has to be balance of that equation, the two-way bridge to where Miami wants to go. He’s the best player on both ends. There can be an urge to try to do too much when you’re as competitive as Butler. That’s why having Winslow and Dragic and other capable playmakers, guys who are good players but not great players and thus won’t infringe upon Butler’s star turf, figures to be a nice mix for Spoelstra to work with and for Butler to trust.
4. ‘Put up or shut up’
That’s what time it is in Miami, according to Pat Riley, who explained that since the Miami Big 3 broke up because of “somebody’s” decision to move on, the Heat have faced as much adversity as any team in the league. It’s probably a fair statement. LeBron leaving by itself is a cataclysmic event for any franchise. Every team he’s ever left has immediately gone in the tank, and indeed, in the year following LeBron’s departure, Miami won 37 games and missed the playoffs.
Then Dwyane Wade left and Chris Bosh’s career ended because of blood clots, but they still had to pay Bosh and the books were jammed with bad salaries for years. Injuries piled up. Hassan Whiteside became a borderline unplayable $100 million player. But as Riley said many times, these are “excuses.” Riley was never going to be part of a tanking team, and he’s clearly tired of being stuck in the middle.
“The fact that Jimmy Butler wanted to come to play in Miami, that was enough for me. It’s a start,” Riley said. “But it’s put up or shut up time. It’s time to play. This is a good team.”
The question is: How good?, and I believe that. I wouldn’t bet on them, as currently constructed, to beat either Milwaukee or Philadelphia, but they can at least threaten Boston/Brooklyn/Indiana as the No. 3 team in the conference. That’s a heck of an improvement from what they’ve been. From there, we’ll see if they have any major moves in their pocket.
5. Butler down to play in 2020 Olympics
This is now an obligatory question for all superstars after the JV version of Team USA just took seventh place to the FIBA World Cup. Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Draymond Green have already said they’re in for Japan next summer, and on Friday Butler pretty much added his name to the mix.
“Most definitely,” Butler said when asked if he would be interested in playing in the 2020 Olympics. “As long as I’m healthy and ready to go, which I think that I will be, I have no problem going over there and doing that.”