After all of it—the leaked trade demands and torched practices and jabs at teammates, the trade to a new team and arguments with a new coach and silent protest of his new role, the Jordans for all and clutch baskets and growing into the "adult in the gym"—Jimmy Butler finally got what he wanted.
We learned Sunday night, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, that pending a few salary-cap maneuvers, Butler will soon be joining the Miami Heat as part of a sign-and-trade with the Philadelphia 76ers and receive a four-year, $142 million max deal. (The Heat still need to offload money after the Goran Dragic snafu with the Mavericks, but neither they, nor the Sixers, believe that will be a problem, per a source.)
From the start, Butler made clear that Miami was where he wanted to be. He informed the Timberwolves of this back in September. As was reported at the time, the two sides came close to finalizing a deal in October, only to have the Timberwolves insist on an additional first-round pick. The request irked Heat president Pat Riley, who cut off trade negotiations.
Butler was eventually sent to Philadelphia instead. There were bumps. Around February, most NBA insiders believed Butler would certainly be gone come summer.
Then the playoffs arrived, and Butler shined. He was the Sixers' go-to option down the stretch. He and Joel Embiid seemed like BFFs. The Sixers came within a few bounces of knocking off the eventual champs.
"The Sixers have to bring him back" was a common response from NBA people when asked what they thought would happen with Butler.
Which, of course, begs the question: Why is he no longer a 76er?
We don't know the answer yet. But hey, what's NBA free agency without some speculation?
Perhaps the Sixers wanted to move on. As of Sunday night, Bleacher Report's reporting on this has yielded no clear answer. Published reports and comments from Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com and ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski have come down on both sides, though this video clip courtesy of Neubeck would seem to back up the theory that Butler was the one who initiated the break-up.
It does seem more likely this change was instigated by the player, not the team. And the dots are fairly easy to connect.
Butler, clearly, really wanted to play for the Heat. Living in Miami was probably a nice bonus. The second desire is understandable. The first seems to have left many confused. After all, isn't he the guy who has attempted to explain away every outburst and controversy—and, man, there have been a bunch—by claiming "I just want to win?"
But if he wants to win so badly, you ask, why would he choose the Heat over the Sixers?
It's a fair question. The Sixers are championship contenders. The Heat are not. Butler no doubt knows this, though according to the plugged-in Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, he was "even more" sold after hearing Miami's plan for attacking the 2020 offseason. Riley may have had a rough few years, but there's no reason to believe he doesn't have a strong plan.
So again: Why would Butler choose the Heat over the Sixers?
One obvious answer is he now gets to be the clear No. 1 option. The man, in NBA parlance. Such a role clearly fits Butler's personality. And, to be honest, it's kind of funny to hear NBA fans deride this urge. When stars come together, they're mocked and labeled as soft. Players who decide they'd rather not share so much are deemed selfish. It's a tough needle to thread.
So there's that craving, which is more than legitimate. But allow me to float another theory.
What if playing for a winner isn't just about playing for a team that wins a lot of games? What if it's about the atmosphere around the team? To pick out a silly but also telling example: The Heat are known for their grueling training camp and Riley's bordering-on-maniacal devotion to player fitness. The Sixers are led by a center who, on team flights, regularly consumes about 5,000 calories' worth of Chick-fil-A.
That sort of sums up the differences between the Sixers and Heat. It doesn't make one better than the other. Talent, after all, is what wins. But it does perhaps offer a clue.
The Sixers and Heat couldn't be more different. The Sixers have a hands-on owner and a management team full of handsy executives. The Heat, on the other hand, have one voice. It belongs to a man cut from the same cloth as Butler.
Joining the Heat might mean leaving some wins on the table. It doesn't make Butler a hypocrite.