ASK IRA: Have the Heat handled the fine line prudently with Jimmy Butler?

Q: I think a lot of us Heat fans are getting tired of hearing the same mantra of “don’t worry about Jimmy Butler, we just need him ready for the playoffs.” Do you see the 76ers saying that about Joel Embiid or the Bucks saying that about Giannis Antetokounmpo? No, because those teams know that the regular-season standings count for homecourt advantage in the playoffs. It’s a pipe dream to think that we can make the NBA Finals again by starting from the play-in round. If we call Jimmy our leader and are always espousing about Heat Culture, then we need a regular season Jimmy as well. – Gregory, Jacksonville.

A: Joel Embiid has played 27 games entering the weekend, Jimmy Butler 24. So, yes, teams are erring on the side of caution with leading men. And if anything were to go sideways with Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks would do the same. And the Heat assuredly are not planning to play from the play-in bracket. There is no arrogance here, just prudence. And there also is reality. Jimmy Butler has not played more than 65 games since 2016-17 with the Bulls. So it’s not as if it’s a tired “mantra” as you suggest, but rather a reality of which the Heat were well aware of before adding Jimmy. Is it the preferred approach? Certainly not with the added burden it places on teammates, such as Bam Adebayo. But this also seems like a moot point. Is what it is with Jimmy Butler, including next-level play in the playoffs.

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Q: When healthy, Caleb Martin definitely brings a different dynamic to the Heat and another guy that can guard one through four. Good to see him back on the floor. – Douglas.

A: And it is a return the Heat need, and for more than his contributions. With Caleb Martin expected to opt out of his contract and enter unrestricted free agency, the Heat need to get a read on his value ahead of the Feb. 8 trading deadline or face the possibility of, as with Max Strus and Gabe Vincent last summer, losing him for nothing in return. The Heat’s best package at the deadline well could be Kyle Lowry’s expiring contract and Bird Right for Caleb to an acquiring team.

Q: Ira, if you have the choice of one Heat player between Caleb Martin and Haywood Highsmith to make a defensive stop, who would it be? – Nate.

A: Can I choose Bam Adebayo or Jimmy Butler instead? (Crickets.) OK, then I probably would go with a healthy Caleb Martin over Haywood Highsmith because of a bit more size and athleticism, as well as the experience of having done it more often in the playoffs. But it’s not as if either would be a consolation choice (other than first turning to Bam and Jimmy).