LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Miami Heat All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler raised his game to a superstar level during the postseason, but the veteran is leaving the bubble with a sour taste in his mouth following Sunday’s 106-93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals because of a promise he felt he didn’t deliver on to team president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra.
“This is what my team needed me to do, the organization asked of me,” Butler said. “I told them that I would win them one and I didn’t hold up my end of the bargain, so that means I got to do it next year. I told Coach Pat, I told Coach Spo I’m here to win one. I didn’t do my job, so moving forward, I got to hold up my end of the bargain.”
Despite his assessment, Butler’s teammates and coaches know there wasn’t much else Butler could have accomplished. He led the fifth-seeded Heat to within two games of an NBA championship, putting together one of the most unexpected runs to the Finals in recent memory. In 20 postseason games, Butler averaged 22.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists, including a triple-double in Games 3 and 5 of the Finals.
“Jimmy has a superstar competitive spirit to him,” Spoelstra said. “If you try to evaluate him or put him in a conventional box of how you view a modern-day basketball player, you’re totally missing the boat on JB. He is a winner, he is a leader, he is a motivator, a mentor and just a supreme competitor. And when you get to this level, I think so many people forget about that, the competition and what you can bring out of an entire franchise when you’re wired to that level of fierce competitiveness.”
Butler’s confidence and work ethic lifted the organization over the past three months, bringing a new level of praise to the culture that Riley created over two decades ago when he arrived in Miami. The passion and mental toughness Butler and his teammates showed throughout their time in the bubble left an emotional Spoelstra wiping away tears to start his postgame news conference Sunday night.
After congratulating the Lakers organization on its championship and thanking the NBA for putting the bubble together, Spoelstra thanked the Heat families for supporting the group and then spoke passionately about his team.
“This locker room, regardless of whatever happens in the future, we’re going to remember this year, this season, this experience and that locker room brotherhood for the rest of our lives,” Spoelstra said. “You’re in this business to be able to be around people like this. And I can go on and on. But the guys that competed and played in this series, we had several guys that were not even close to being 100 percent. Probably shouldn’t have been playing, but that’s how this group was. They wanted to do it for each other. And I just, I’m really bummed that we couldn’t find a way to get over the hump and finish the season with a win.”
The only solace for Spoelstra and the Heat is that they feel confident that Butler will eventually be able to lead the group to the top in the future. Butler has forever changed the narrative that followed him throughout his career regarding whether he could be the face of a championship-caliber team and fit in well within the context of the locker room. The professional marriage Butler formed with the Heat — after agreeing to terms last summer and having the organization complete a sign-and-trade deal with the Philadelphia 76ers to land him — paid immediate dividends for both player and team. Butler appreciated the work ethic that the young Heat players showed and the Heat loved how hard Butler played on a nightly basis.
“This is where I belong,” Butler said. “This is what makes me smile.This is what makes me happy. I wish I could have done it for the city. I wish I could have done it for my teammates, for the organization, but I’m still glad that it happened.”
Butler thanked Miami fans and the Heat organization in an Instagram post, closing with, “Best believe we will be back.”
After years of searching for the right fit during previous stops with the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves and 76ers, Butler is looking forward to planting roots in Miami, and the Heat are confident they can serve as a premier destination for free agents in the future.
“I think that’s what we’re all looking for, right, is to be part of a family,” Spoelstra said. “To be a part of something where you felt all along that you were searching for something. Where you can just be yourself, you don’t have to make any apologies for who you are. We have been searching for him for a long time, and I think he’s been searching for something like us for a while …
“I’m just thrilled to be able to have an opportunity to coach Jimmy and have a relationship with him and move forward chasing this dream. It’s not going to stop. We’re all wired the same. So we’ll get over this at some point. I don’t expect anybody to get over it tonight. But we have some brothers in arms now moving forward that we share the same values and the same goals and that’s part of the battle of just finding that kind of alignment.”
As disappointed as Butler was about the result of the Finals, he took pride in how hard the group competed to get to that point, noting the “bond” the Heat built over time.
“I wouldn’t give that back for the world,” Butler said. “We really, really, really love being around one another and competing with one another. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. If I had to spend three months around some people, these people, they’re the ones that I want to do it with.”
Butler said that the group was already talking about what it would take to get back to the Finals next season as the Lakers were celebrating their freshly minted title on the floor.
“We’re trending in the right direction,” Butler said. “We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to get better. We’re going to come back. We’re going to come back. We’ll be back. That’s what we’re all saying in that locker room. We got guys that want to do it. We got guys that already want to get back in the gym and get to working at this thing. That’s what we do here.”