The Miami Heat are finishing off their best regular season since LeBron James' final year with the team in 2013-14, and offseason acquisition Jimmy Butler has played a key role in that effort.
Veteran Heat point guard Goran Dragic praised Butler's leadership in comments to reporters Friday, calling him one of his "favorite teammates" and adding more information for ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski on the reporter's podcast (h/t Anthony Chiang of the Miami Herald).
"For me, I even talked to some guys. I said, 'How did that even come out with the media or players that Jimmy is a bad guy?' I don't know. If I'm honest, I really don’t know. He wants to win.
"Jimmy is one of those players that he's going to call you out. If you're not doing your job, he's going to call you out. As professional players, we need that. He's our leader. Everybody knows that. It's nothing personal. He's here to win and we're here to win. Maybe other organizations with those young fellas, they couldn't handle that. I think they'e wrong. Everybody needs to be vulnerable and everybody needs to accept criticism, too. ... That's how Jimmy operates and I love him for that."
The Heat entered Friday with a 44-28 record after going 39-43 the year before. Butler has averaged team highs with 19.9 points, 6.7 assists and 1.8 steals per game.
The Heat entered Friday only 6-8 without Butler on the court, so his value to the team is abundantly clear. He can do a little of everything and stands as one of the game's best two-way players, one who has engineered the team to a five-win improvement from last year despite playing nine fewer games.
People have praised Butler's leadership qualities at various points this season, with All-Star big man Bam Adebayo offering these words to ESPN's Nick Friedell:
"He's way different than some of the media portrayed him to be. He's not a cancer. As you can see, we're winning. He's one of the leaders on this team, and that's what we need from him. He's going to keep doing it. I'm gonna stay on him to keep doing it."
Murmurs of drama stemming from Butler's time with the Minnesota Timberwolves have sprung to light, including a reportedly heated practice in which he was viewed "boldly challenging teammates, coaches and front-office executives," per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
Kentucky men's hoops head coach John Calipari also told ESPN's Jackie MacMullan in November 2018 that Butler "bullied" star Wolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns.
Butler has at least one defender from his time in Minnesota, however, as ex-Wolves teammate Taj Gibson, who now plays for the New York Knicks, also called Butler a "great leader" in comments relayed by Peter Botte of the New York Post last January.
Regardless of what went down in Minnesota, it's clear Butler is viewed rather well in Miami, which is looking to get its playoff run off to a good start Tuesday against the Indiana Pacers.