Sour grapes? Well, that does seem possible. After all, the Miami Heat were, for much of the offseason, the lone bidder in the sweepstakes to acquire Damian Lillard, the Blazers star who had requested a trade from the team in July, but who had gone through the entire summer without a true suitor.
Until this month, the Heat were the only team to make a confirmed offer for Lillard, whose agent made the mistake of admitting that Miami was the only place Lillard wanted to be. The Blazers rejected it and the two teams never really engaged much beyond that. But because there was so little interest in Lillard, it appeared that the Blazers would have to re-engage with Miami to make a deal.
That never happened, though. Instead, the Bucks swooped in and arranged a three-team trade with Phoenix gaining assets in the bargain. Lillard has landed, in Milwaukee and not in Miami.
And Jimmy Butler is none too happy about it. He popped up on Instagram after the consummation of the deal and accused the Bucks of foul play.
“Yo NBA, man, y’all need to look into the Bucks for tampering,” Butler told the world. “Y’all. I’m just going to put that out there. Y’all didn’t hear it from me but I heard it through somebody.”
Jimmy Butler … Kidding? Maybe?
Hard to tell, as it so often is, whether Butler is kidding or being serious in the post. And technically, he is surely right when it comes to the letter of the law and NBA tampering. Before pulling off the blockbuster deal that sent away Jrue Holiday (to Portland with a first-round pick and two pick swaps) and Grayson Allen (to Phoenix), the Bucks undoubtedly checked in with Lillard, either through agent Aaron Goodwin or directly with Lillard.
Because Lillard was still a member of the Trailblazers at that point, any contract with him by Milwaukee was tampering.
But then, Butler and the Heat will want to be careful about pointing any fingers because, ultimately, they could be accused of the same thing—having contact with Lillard and/or Goodwin this summer, when Lillard was still a Trail Blazer.
It’s doubtful the NBA will follow up on Butler’s request. The league is just happy, at this point, to have what was an unsightly situation resolved.
Heat Bitter Over Empty-Handed Summer
Still, there is cause for bitterness on the part of the Heat and their fans. While there is a deep and well-earned trust in the leadership of the team—head honcho Pat Riley, GM Andy Elisburg and coach Erik Spoelstra—Lillard was there for Miami’s taking, if only they had upped their offer to Portland and stayed engaged throughout the process.
Instead, the Heat made their offer and walked away after that. They also missed out on Jrue Holiday, heading to Boston in the wake of the Lillard deal. Now, another East rival has gotten better and the Heat are pretty much returning the same team as last season, minus Gabe Vincent and Max Strus, but adding Josh Richardson.
And, worse, we continue to get reports about how dead-set Lillard was on coming to Miami—he wanted to go to the Heat, or stay with the Blazers and forget the whole thing.
Early in September, when it appeared that Portland-Miami talks were not going anywhere, Lillard talked with Blazers GM Joe Cronin. From TNT’s Chris Haynes:
“In the Sept. 5 meeting, Cronin conveyed that if he was forced to do a deal with Miami, he had every intention of going after every attractable asset. Lillard knew then he was unlikely to end up in Miami.
“Lillard then said if a deal couldn’t be worked out with the Heat, he would prefer to rescind his trade request and return to the Trail Blazers. Cronin’s response to the seven-time All-Star was that there was no coming back.”