ASK IRA: Will Jimmy Butler sitting now make Miami Heat better later?

Q: Ira, I know this isn’t the popular opinion, and I want to see Jimmy Butler play as much as the next fan, but I like what he said Tuesday, how he won’t push it until he feels comfortable. Here’s my point: If a player is willing to bypass personal awards (which he will, because of the NBA’s new rules on games played) then that means he is putting the team first. But my question to you is: If the Heat weren’t winning, would Jimmy have played more? – Ted.

A: I’m not sure it’s as much putting team first as appreciating at 34 that a body can endure only so much in the NBA if not 100 percent. I wouldn’t say any of this is calculated, with very real injuries in case of both the calf and the toe. But I do believe that Jimmy has come to the belief (perhaps correctly so), that his body is a 60-game regular-season body. And I’m not so sure that the Heat don’t agree. To your second question, I do not believe Jimmy would have (or could have) pushed back earlier if the Heat struggled in his absence. Now, if this was the playoffs, then perhaps a different story (it’s amazing what modern medicine can do over the short term). Waiting games are difficult. But waiting games are easier when not even at the midpoint of the 80-game season.

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Q: I’ve got to give it to Nikola Jovic. I think it’s still too early to say if he’ll have staying power in the league, but he has taken the coaching to heart and learned to play with more of a motor. That’s a tough”‘skill” to learn. – Juan, Denver.

A: To be honest, I would be worried about any player who came into the league at 19 and didn’t take coaching to heart (although I certainly have seen a few). That should be the covenant made by any player who opts for early entry in the draft. A player who at 19 or 20 thinks he knows it all and can do it all should be a red flag to any talent evaluator. And the reality with Nikola Jovic is there still is plenty of learning to do. Being receptive merely is the required starting point.

Q: Did someone in the organization intervene with Pat Riley’s willingness to mortgage the Heat’s future for a last hurrah with Damian Lillard? – Rocky, Tamarac.

A: I appreciate how there has been much second thought given to what Pat Riley might or might not have been willing to offer to the Blazers for Damian Lillard (had Portland been willing to listen). But let’s not also lose sight of what Damian Lillard is and how the Heat still are looking up at Lillard and the Bucks in the standings. As with the Bucks, I believe that any price paid at the time for Lillard would have been perceived as a win by the acquiring team. Here’s the reality: Would you be willing to trade Jaime Jaquez Jr. straight up for Damian Lillard? And if you would, then everything else possibly offered would have stood as ancillary, with all due respect to Nikola Jovic and those future first-round picks.