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When Jimmy Butler chose to sign with the Miami Heat on the first day of free agency last June, it caught some basketball enthusiasts by surprise.
Instead of joining a team with another star and forming a title contender, the four-time All-Star elected to relocate to South Florida for a four-year, $142 million contract.
It was a move largely perceived as abandoning championship aspirations in favor of basking in the sun with little to no pressure of winning.
“I tried to get to Miami earlier than June, if you remember me coming out of Minnesota,” Butler told Yahoo Sports, referring to his trade request last season. “So, people are overlooking all the facts.”
Four months later, Butler and the Heat are off to a 5-1 start and only his former team — the 5-0 Philadelphia 76ers — has a better record.
The Heat had their most impressive win of the season Sunday night at American Airlines Arena, routing James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets 129-100. Butler was a force on both ends with 18 points, seven rebounds, nine assists and four steals in 27 minutes.
Butler views the reaction to his free-agency decision as disrespect, and he’s now relishing in the team’s early success.
“Mother------s act like I’m not a good basketball player,” Butler told Yahoo Sports. “Like for real. Just think about that. Like I can’t come in and make a huge difference. I’m not going to say ‘carry a team’ because nobody can do it by themselves and I mean that. I’m not putting it all on myself, but I know what I’m capable of. I know what I bring to any and all situations, and the group of guys that we have is the group of guys that I want to play with.
“When I look down the line and as we're talking about it as an organization on this roster, I know what these guys are capable of. These guys are built like me. We’re one in the same and so they’re only going to get better and they’re not going to get complacent. This is me. I see myself in every one of these guys around this locker room.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is getting valuable contributions from rookies Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro as well as young veterans Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson.
The Heat are developing young talent while also sustaining some success, which often doesn’t go hand in hand.
Butler recognized the potential in Herro well before the No. 13 overall pick from Kentucky erupted for 29 points on Oct. 29 against the Atlanta Hawks, hitting 12-of-16 free throws in his third NBA game.
In the offseason, Butler flew the rookie to Chicago to work out with him and trainer Stanley Remy, and Butler learned Herro’s tough demeanor mirrored his.
Butler is also impressed with the Heat’s other breakout rookie.
“Look at the mother-----r K-Nunn. Look at him. He’s got so much of me in him that it’s scary because his confidence continues to grow,” Butler told Yahoo Sports. “The same thing with our rook Tyler Herro and [second-year player] Duncan. Come on, man. Just because you don’t know these guys like that, don’t make the mistake of looking past them. They’re going to make sure you do know them pretty, pretty soon.”
Last season the Sixers acquired Butler in a trade with the Timberwolves in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a 2022 second-round pick. Bringing in a pending free agent at that cost placed the franchise in a difficult spot.
Initially, all signs pointed to an extended partnership with Butler. But in the days leading up to free agency, it was made clear within league circles that Butler wasn’t returning.
The 6-foot-7 forward says something went down behind the scenes that led to his departure, but he wouldn’t elaborate on the subject.
“Stuff just don’t work out. Nobody knows what really went on in Philly and we’re going to leave it that way,” Butler told Yahoo Sports. “But it was a great opportunity for me.”
Butler was pressed on what happened, but refused to shed more light on the situation.
“Just go with your gut. You’re not dumb. All of that will come out whenever it’s time,” he told Yahoo Sports. “Right now is not the time. I’m locked in with this. I’m happy, man. I’m smiling and my guys want me to be here, my organization wants me to be here, I want to be here and we’re going to ride this thing until the wheels fall off. I’m not saying Philly wasn’t great, man. We had some really good players. I talk to Joel [Embiid] damn near every f-----g day. It’s a brotherhood, man. I love that guy. I’m going to always have his back and I know he’ll always have mine.”
Butler says he’s moved on from the episodes of his past and is now embracing a new chapter of leading and nurturing a young nucleus.
And the future is promising.
The Heat outscored the Rockets 46-14 in the opening quarter Sunday, setting a franchise record for points in a quarter. With the Rockets being viewed as title contenders, the victory spoke volumes about the team’s direction.
“Look, man, don’t count us out. Don’t count us out,” Butler told Yahoo Sports. “There are some really good teams in the East. I hear you. This league has players with way bigger names than myself and everybody else in this locker room. But don’t count us out, man, because it’s a team game and no one can do it by themselves. But we’ll show people throughout the year that we can compete with the best of them. We damn sure can compete with the best of them.”
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