They didn't, and he's not.
Instead, Butler has decided to join forces with the Oklahoma City Thunder, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:
Caron Butler has agreed to sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder, a league source tells Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 28, 2014
Sam Amick of USA Today has since confirmed the decision:
Can confirm Caron Butler intends to sign with Oklahoma City when he clears waivers. He was bought out by the Milwaukee Bucks recently.— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) February 28, 2014
After finalizing his buyout from the Milwaukee Bucks Thursday, via Wojnarowski, the veteran forward had a slew of intriguing options in front of him.
Miami, where Butler spent the first two seasons of his career, emerged as a clear favorite before the race even officially started. Once Butler started mulling his own options, though, the decision wasn't as easy as so many thought it would be, as ESPN.com's Ramona Shelburne noted:
Decision for Caron Butler has been tough (Heat, OKC, Bulls, Spurs) but he's expecting to decide Friday, sources said— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 27, 2014
The Heat had history to sell to Butler, along with a growing championship trophy case. With a rich past and even brighter present, the two-time defending champs seemed to have put a "Godfather offer" in front of Butler.
OKC came up with something better, though. It crafted a scenario Butler couldn't resist and Miami couldn't match.
Why Not the Miami Heat?
Before digging too deep into the reasons he didn't come, it's important to remember what made South Beach so appealing in the first place.
Butler didn't simply have a history with this franchise; he had a track record with these people.
Team president Pat Riley not only drafted Butler No. 10 overall in 2002, he also coached the team in Butler's rookie season. Franchise mainstays Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem joined the fold in Butler's sophomore campaign. Even current coach Erik Spoelstra was working his way up the organization's ranks during Butler's tenure.
These faces weren't just familiar; they were friendly too:
Dwyane Wade on Caron Butler: "He’s one of my best friends. I always talk to him, and that’s all you get."— Joseph Goodman (@JoeGoodmanJr) February 28, 2014
Butler had embraced the community during his stay, and the city responded in kind:
Not many people who have passed through Heat organization have been more appreciated than Caron Butler. So now we wait...— Ethan J. Skolnick (@EthanJSkolnick) February 26, 2014
If the relationship was so good the first time, why aren't we seeing it rekindled?
Because the present was going to be nothing like the past.
If the Heat could commit to any role for Butler, it wouldn't have been for anything more than window dressing—a feel-good story, as long as he was able to feel good despite being trapped on a crowded wing.
Butler is mainly a floor-spacer at this stage of his career. Nearly half of his field-goal attempts this season (41.5 percent to be precise) have come from beyond the arc.
The Heat feature shooters prominently in their offense, but they've built their rotation accordingly.
This is an overstocked arsenal of snipers as it is, and shooting alone won't separate anyone from the pack. Just ask Rashard Lewis (16.6 minutes per game), James Jones (12 appearances on the season) or even Michael Beasley (15.3 minutes, 38 games), who has far more offensive tricks up his sleeve than Butler.
Miami could promise him a spot in the locker room, but anything beyond that was out of the question:
Caron Butler's decision had to be based on one thing: Assurance of minutes. They weren't guaranteed in Miami. I'm still surprised.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) February 28, 2014
The Thunder didn't have a history to draw from, but they could sell Butler on that same championship ceiling and one that actually included a prominent role.
Thunder, Butler Met One Another's Needs
OKC might have been a surprise landing spot for outside observers, but this franchise reportedly had a good feeling about this race all along.
Why the confidence? Because the Thunder had something special to offer, something capable of trumping personal attachments and pushing the present ahead of the past—playing time.
The Heat would have to search for—maybe even create—a niche for Butler, but the Thunder have a current opening for a veteran, defensive-minded wing. While this roster's youth helps raise its ceiling, it also lowers the basement more than a true contender would like.
Jeremy Lamb has been in a funk for the entire month of February (seven points a night on .361 shooting from the field, along with .290 from the arc and .750 from the free-throw line). Reggie Jackson has struggled with his shot since the start of the calendar year (.416/.305/.857), and Perry Jones III remains a mystery coach Scott Brooks hasn't solved (12 minutes per game).
Butler's bag of offensive tricks is awfully light at this point, but he can still scratch one of the offense's primary itches: three-point shooting.
OKC's 35.7 three-point percentage ranks 16th in the category. Considering how much a properly spaced floor could mean for dynamic slashers like Durant, Westbrook and Jackson, this team's seventh-rated offense (107.2 points per 100 possessions) has more room to grow with a lift from the perimeter.
Butler isn't a lights-out shooter (career 34.1 percent from three), but he's more than capable of knocking down open looks. He hit 41.9 percent of his spot-up triples with Milwaukee this season, via Synergy Sports (subscription required), and that was with "playmakers" like Brandon Knight (5.0 assists) and Nate Wolters (3.4) setting the table and "scorers" like O.J. Mayo (12.4 points) drawing defenders away.
Now, Butler will be working off two prolific scorers (Durant, 31.5 points and Westbrook, 20.9), both of whom also happen to be willing passers (5.6 and 6.8 assists, respectively).
Butler also gives Brooks two other things the coach is looking for after losing starting center Kendrick Perkins with a groin strain—defensive toughness and lineup versatility:
In Butler, the Thunder would land a 12-year vet known for his toughness and versatility. He can play the 3 or the 4, defend and shoot the 3.— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) February 28, 2014
Oklahoma City is allowing an average of 114 points over its current three-game losing streak. The Thunder need someone who can help them stop the bleeding, and Butler has that Band-Aid resume: 11.2 player efficiency allowed to opposing 3s this season, via 82games.com.
Butler has the talent to spot Durant some needed rest time as well.
Brooks' track record says he'll take full advantage of that ability. The Thunder brought in veteran guard Derek Fisher after the Houston Rockets bought him out in 2012 and subsequently gave him more than 22 minutes per night in their playoff run.
Could Butler be looking at a similar workload, or perhaps an even heavier one? It's safe to say he has a far better chance at finding those kind of minutes in OKC than he would have in Miami.
What Happens Next?
Butler needs to officially clear waivers before inking his contract, which will happen on Saturday.
After that, he could be on the court as soon as Sunday, although a Tuesday debut against the Philadelphia 76ers appears more likely, per Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:
It's possible Butler suits up Sunday against Charlotte but unlikely. More likely he suits up for Tuesdays' game against Philly.— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) February 28, 2014
There are always a few bumps in the road during any transition period, and this probably won't be an exception. Still, it won't take long for Thunder fans to appreciate his intensity, defensive energy and three-point shooting.
As for the Heat, they have options to consider moving forward.
With the NBA's second-best winning percentage (.745) and No. 2 net rating (plus-7.4 points per 100 possessions), standing pat wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
What kind of playing time should Butler get in OKC?
Still, Miami selling Roger Mason Jr. at the trade deadline to free up a roster spot makes it seem as if something is coming. Maybe wing DeAndre Liggins will turn his 10-day contract into something permanent. Perhaps the Heat will take another look at the buyout market (Metta World Peace?).
Miami and OKC entered this week as two of the NBA's top teams, and their activity on the buyout market wasn't going to change that status.
Bringing Butler on board does strengthen the Thunder, though.
Will he be enough to help OKC through the jam-packed Western Conference field? Will he power this team past the reigning champs?
There's nothing we can do to find those answers but stay tuned. As his signing proved, real life has better plot twists than the greatest authors can pen.