Agent counters notion of Butler picking and choosing playing schedule, ‘isn’t reality’

MIAMI — In the wake of Miami Heat president Pat Riley on Monday challenging his players to be available more often, comments made during a season-ending media session that pointedly included references to the missed time this past season of Jimmy Butler, Bernie Lee, agent for the Heat star forward, acknowledged and responded to the concerns.

“Taking issue in games in which he plays is just not reality,” Lee said to the South Florida Sun Sentinel by phone when contacted shortly after Riley concluded his media session at Kaseya Center. “This past season, we had a conversation at the start of the year, just with some of the changes, rules changes in the NBA, the priority that was in place to be able to participate in every game he was physically able to participate for, and I can tell you that he lived up that commitment.”

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver last offseason stressed a priority of having the league’s stars on the court as often as possible, with the league invoking a minimum criteria of 65 games played to be eligible for postseason awards. Butler, 34, appeared in 60 regular-season games, then missing one game in the play-in round and all five games of the Heat’s 4-1 first-round playoff elimination at the hands of the Boston Celtics.

“Jimmy missed 22 games this past year, a mix of personal reasons and injury,” Lee said. “If there was a game that was on the schedule that Jimmy was healthy enough to participate in, he did that. He played in a number of back-to-backs and it was the utmost priority to him to do everything he can to be available.

“When you dive into even more, Jimmy played his highest minutes per game (34.0) since Minnesota (36.1 in 2018-19). He played over 2,000, the third year in a row that he’s done that (actually 1,931 in 2021-22). He was third on the team in total minutes played (this past season).

“If you look at Jimmy’s entire career, I’m not really sure where this narrative is coming from, in terms of constantly dissecting his availability. But if you look at his five years in Miami, the Miami Heat have participated in 61 playoff games, not including these past playoffs that he was injured for. Of those 61, Jimmy has only missed three because of injury. In every single playoff series since he’s been in Miami, he’s led the team in both minutes per game and total minutes.

“He’s done that for five straight years. Last year, alone, in the run to the Finals, he played almost 900 minutes in the playoffs (874), essentially like half what he and the majority of players play 2,000 (in the regular season). He played half of that in the course of four series.”

Lee stressed such wear should also be factored into the discussion of availability.

“He’s worked extremely hard to both help the team build to having success over the course of a season, and then, most importantly for all of us, adding a high degree of success in the playoffs and making himself available as need be,” Lee said.

“And when his number is called, more often than not, he’s been able to answer the task. So I don’t agree with that. It’s something I would like to make sure there’s a little bit more clarity on.”

Lee also pointed out Butler was one of 12 players 33 or older to play at least 2,000 minutes.

Lee confirmed, as Riley said, that there was the conversation with the team prior to the season about availability.

“The thought that Jimmy is picking and choosing when to play isn’t reality,” Lee said. “I enjoy watching him play as much, if not more, than anyone. So believe me, I want to see him play every night.

“But unfortunately he isn’t a robot and injuries and circumstances happen. Prior to the year, we had a meeting to discuss the changing NBA rules and the need to reject load management, And we all understood the assignment. Jimmy’s 22 games missed were all for valid issues and concerns.”

Through it all, Lee said Butler remains committed to the Heat and South Florida.

“Once he got to this organization, he got to an organization that wholeheartedly has embraced him in every single way,” Lee said. “Look, they’re both cut from the same cloth.

“There’s going to be honest conversations that have to be had this summer about how to move forward, but those conversations aren’t going to be driven by anything other than, ‘How do we do this to move forward to take the next step, and win a championship?’ ”

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As for an extension window for Butler opening on July 7, Lee said, “I have too much respect for both what Jimmy’s accomplished in his career and what he’s built to negotiate publicly. I have way too much respect for the franchise that currently employs him to be doing that. So we’re going to go away, we’re going to do our business, and that’s whatever it’s going to be.”