As the Miami Heat gear up for the opening game of their 2022 playoff run, questions are still floating around about Jimmy Butler’s long-term future with the team.
Butler, 32, is known for being a firecracker who can easily unite or disband a locker room with his highly competitive antics. Unfortunately, that same level of competitiveness is exactly what has got people predicting a swift exit from Miami for the six-time All-Star.
During a March 24 game against the Golden State Warriors, Butler became embroiled in a sideline argument with Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra and Miami lifer Udonis Haslem. Ever since that fateful encounter, fans and media members alike have begun to brace themselves for Butler to be traded away from the team during the off-season. However, Butler’s age and recent contract extension make any potential trade difficult, as not many teams will be willing to pay an aging veteran with a career of locker room issues $146 million over the next three seasons.
Luckily, there are other teams looking to get off exuberant deals too, and that could play into Miami’s hands if they do decide that Butler’s presence is a disruptive one. According to Sam Quinn of CBS Sports, one team that Miami could do business with is the Los Angeles Lakers, who themselves are looking to get off a large contract.
“Miami is typically in the business of adding stars, not subtracting them. But let’s say the Heat suffer an early postseason exit and let’s say that the sideline blowup between Jimmy Butler and Erik Spoelstra was demonstrative of bigger issues between the two of them. Butler signed a $184 million extension last offseason that hasn’t even kicked in yet.
He’s 32, injury-prone, and doesn’t have a skill set that typically ages well. If the Heat sense that their championship window is closed, a Westbrook-for-Butler-and-picks swap could serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card on that lofty extension. The Heat could then reload quickly when Westbrook’s contract comes off the books in a year. This isn’t how Miami typically operates, but there’s valid logic to it if this postseason goes badly enough,” Quinn wrote.
What Happens to Kyle Lowry in This Scenario?
Kyle Lowry is almost 37-years-old, as is well past his prime at this point, but the point guard’s tenacity on defense and ability to get hot in a pinch is a valuable asset in the post-season. However, asking Lowry to be the primary point of attack for the next two years isn’t the best route towards another championship.
Russell Westbrook has played alongside a scoring two-guard before in Bradley Beal and has proven he’s capable of setting the table for others to finish their food. Perhaps moving Lowry into a shooting guard role for the final two years of his $85 million deal is a way to both keep him around and get the best out of him as time continues to catch up with him.
By putting the ball in Westbrook’s hands, you’re allowing Lowry to attack off the catch saving him from additional milage as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. Any extra energy that Lowry can conserve will be funneled into his perimeter defense, which will always appease a defensive-minded head coach such as Spoelstra.
Lowry has played the two-guard spot before, according to Basketball-Reference the six-foot guard has spent eight percent of his career minutes at the two spot, and while that’s a minimal sample size from a 16-year career, it may be time for Lowry to move into a less ball-dominant role in order to maximize his impact.
Trading for Westbrook Has Finacial Upside
Westbrook’s contract is set to expire at the end of next season, assuming he opts into his player option for 2022-23, which is almost guaranteed. Butler’s contract expires in 2026.
By trading for Westbrook, the Heat are essentially hitting the reset button on their cap space heading into the 2023 free agency period – a free-agent class that is projected to be deep across the board. If Miami is truly interested in parting ways with Butler, this deal, however it pans out on the court, would be a quick route back to having max salary potential within a year.
So, if the Heat has their eye on a potential free agent after next season, Butler may be the sacrificial lamb to get the team closer to the cap space they’re going to require. And if you can get a redemption season out of a motivated Westbrook, that could end up being a big win for the franchise as they continue to retool their roster to remain competitive year after year.