Jimmy Butler somehow must still keep proving himself

Heat guard Jimmy Butler
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
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Jimmy Butleraccording to the legend – arrived late to a 2018 Timberwolves practice in the midst of trying to force a trade, led third-stringers to victory over the starters while talking trash, shooting only once and wearing a Rolex then left early.

“I was probably seeing red at that point in time, so I don’t know what was going on,” Butler said.

Two-and-a-half years later, Butler is even more sparse on details.

“It was so long ago, I really can’t recall what went on,” Butler said. “I know the point I was trying to get across, but I can’t recall exactly what went on.”

His point?

“That I’m a really good basketball player and I may have had a little bit to do with winning,” Butler said. “That’s it.”

Though Butler evaded a question about who needed to hear that message (*cough* Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins *cough*), the answer clearly extends well beyond people who were at Minnesota’s facility on that 2018 day.

Butler is having one of the best seasons in NBA history – for someone snubbed as an All-Star.

He established himself as a borderline superstar years ago. He elevated his game even higher in leading the Heat to Eastern Conference title and going toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the NBA Finals last season. He returned this season better than ever.

Yet, Eastern Conference coaches snubbed him when picking All-Star reserves.

Here are the players bypassed for the All-Star game who produced the highest full-season box plus-minus since the league began tracking turnovers in 1973 (must have played enough to qualify for the points per game leaderboard):

Butler had missed 12 of Miami’s 31 games when All-Star reserves were announced. But most of his absences were due to coronavirus, an issue unlikely to linger. Butler had already proved his high level of play in prior seasons and was awesome in the games he had played this season.

It was absurd at the time he wasn’t named an All-Star. It looks even worse now that Butler is – or at least should be – headed toward All-NBA.

Not that Butler is taking up that case.

“I don’t do it to be an All-Star,” Butler said. “I don’t do it to be an MVP. I don’t do it to be any of that.

“I do it because I want to win. I do it because I want to gain the respect of other individuals in my league when they go up against me, like, ‘You know what? He’s coming to play tonight.’ With or without being an All-Star, with or without being MVP, ‘Look, that’s one individual that’s coming to play tonight.'”

Cue LeBron’s quote during the Finals:

“Love it. Love it,” LeBron said of facing Butler. “One of the best competitors we have in our game. We love that opportunity. For me personally, I don’t know how many more opportunities I’m going to have. So to be able to go against a fierce competitor like that is something I’ll look back on when I’m done playing. I’ll miss those moments.”

After becoming the NBA’s vagabond star, Butler is establishing himself in Miami. His forceful determination has meshed beautifully with Heat Culture (a lifestyle LeBron knows well).

Miami has Butler locked in for next season before he has a $37,653,300 player option for 2022-23. This offseason, he will become eligible for a max contract extension projected to be worth about $182 million over four years (including replacing his player-option year with an approximately $41 million salary).

That’d be a lot to pay Butler – who has heavy mileage – for his age-33-36 seasons. But Butler is also darned good and has quickly become nearly essential to the Heat.

Does Butler expect Miami to offer that max extension?

“I think me and the Heat have an understanding,” Butler said. “I think we have a mutual respect for what each one of us can do for each other. But we’ll see whenever that time gets here. I know I have a job to do, and that’s to win us a championship along with my teammates. So, when the time comes, you’ll know.

“I don’t do anything for money. I don’t. It’s all about how somebody values you.”

Butler did this interview to promote his new partnership with Rhone. It’s no surprise a company with a motto of “Forever Forward” selected Butler to promote its clothing.

Butler received so much praise during last year’s playoffs. A sponsorship like this builds even more cachet. But when asked whether the postseason run and ensuing attention elevated his stature within the league, Butler – even when ostensibly promoting the business – seized on the last words to focus on basketball.

“Uhhhh, within the league?” Butler said. “No, I don’t think so. I think, before last year, I was deemed as a pretty OK basketball player. I think I’m still deemed as that now. I don’t think that one playoff run is going to solidify anything. I think, if I don’t play well this playoff run, is that going to solidify anything? No. But people are going to talk about it. So, I think it’s just a one-time thing, and we leave that there, to tell you the truth.”

Butler says he doesn’t care about about awards and honors. But sometimes, it feels as if Butler actively doesn’t want the credit. He said he didn’t mind being an All-Star, preferring to spend the weekend with people he cares about. He goes out of his way not to view last postseason as a breakthrough performance.

But while Butler perpetually chases his next goal, the rest of us can still pay him his just due.