Following a summer during which fans and pundits alike were banking on big moves from Pat Riley, the Miami Heat entered the new campaign looking surprisingly similar to their 2021-22 selves. Beyond PJ Tucker’s move to Philly and the drafting of Nikola Jovic, there was little to write home about where roster movement was concerned.
That lack of movement may have made for an uneventful offseason, but fans still had every reason to believe that the Heat would be a problem in the East in 2022-23. After all, the South Beach Crew was a Jimmy Butler triple away from making the NBA Finals last season.
After the playoff run that Butler had, there was renewed hope that he was good enough to be the guy on a championship-level squad, too.
Flash forward to now, though, and fans are getting anxious amid a 6-7 start from the team. And even as Butler is on pace to have one of his best statistical seasons, questions about his ability to act as a lead dog are now bubbling back to the surface.
West Coach Gets Real on Butler Leading the Charge in Miami
Heavy Sports’ Sean Deveney spoke to a Western Conference coach about the situation in Miami and, in particular, Butler’s place in it all. And it was their opinion that the six-time All-Star should probably be playing second fiddle to another of the Heat’s big-time ballers.
“I’ve thought, even going back to 2020 when they were in the Finals in the bubble, that the only way they can win a championship is if Bam Adebayo is their best player,” the coach opined.
However, Adebayo’s ability to take ownership of that top spot continues to be in question — same as it ever was.
“Really, that is what they need. When he is aggressive and playing with force, man, he can do everything on both sides of the ball. But he’s always been reluctant to demand that, and they’ve always been reluctant to sort of push him into the role whether he likes it or not.”
The Jimmy Conundrum
The coach made it clear that he wasn’t knocking Miami’s go-to guy. On the contrary, there’s a real appreciation there for all he’s been able to do despite the quirks in his individual game.
“Because what you get from Jimmy is great, he is a fun player to watch play, but man, he has to work so hard for everything he gets,” the coach said. “Everything.”
That effort notwithstanding, the coach doesn’t see Riley and Co. achieving their goals until the torch is passed to Bam.
“All the credit in the world to [Butler] because he does that work, he is not afraid of doing the work. And they’re paying him [$145 million] over the next three years until he’s 36 so they think he can keep doing that. But the problem is, somewhere along the line, you need Bam to pass him on the food chain. And he’s not going to pass the guy making $50 million.”
Through his first 11 appearances this season, Butler is averaging 22.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.9 steals per outing while connecting on 48.7% of his field-goal attempts and 37.0% from deep.