Jimmy Butler and Heat reach a middle ground, but their future together remains murky (2024)

In a league where so many players regularly bounce from one franchise to the next, Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat have seemingly offered a shining example of a team and player made for each other. A Heat franchise that embraces rugged personalities and refuses to waver on its win-now mantra, with Butler — and his sharp tongue, charismatic personality and maniacal work ethic — as its face? It made all the sense in the world.


They had come together in 2019 when they needed each other most. After tumultuous endings to his time in Chicago, Minnesota and Philadelphia over three years, Butler had to prove his competitive fire was fueled by winning, not an urge to argue with teammates and coaches. The Heat, meanwhile, had missed the playoffs in two of its previous three seasons and were struggling to find a path back to the top of the Eastern Conference without LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh leading the way.

This marriage has been a tremendous success for both sides. Miami has made two NBA Finals appearances and was one win away from a third in 2022. Butler has rehabilitated his reputation and cemented himself as one of the best playoff performers of his generation.

The possibility of that marriage ending has become a hot topic since the end of the 2023-24 season, especially after Heat president Pat Riley displayed clear frustration — brought on by Butler’s inconsistent availability in recent years — and a reluctance to commit to a long-term contract extension for his star.

“That’s a big decision on our part to commit those kinds of resources unless you have somebody who’s going to be there and available every single night,” Riley said in June. “That’s the truth. We have to look at making that kind of commitment and when do we do it. We don’t have to do it until 2025, actually.”

GO DEEPERRiley says Heat won't trade Butler, but calls out 'trolling' comments

Rather than negotiate an extension with the Heat now, Butler plans to play out the 2024-25 season, then opt out of the final year of his contract and hit unrestricted free agency in 2025, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. That would also be Butler’s stance if he is traded to another team. The messaging from Butler’s side has been clear: He plans to have a bounce-back season in 2024-25, ideally with Miami, which will set him up for a major payday next summer.

This is not an ideal outcome for either side, though it is a middle ground many weren’t sure the two could reach. Over the next calendar year, both Butler and the Heat must face tough questions that eventually need answers.

Butler’s on the verge of facing one of the biggest decisions he’s made in his career, and much like his decision to join Miami in 2019, his next move could go a long way in determining how his career is viewed once it’s said and done.

Based on everything we’ve heard up until now, Butler would prefer to sign a long-term deal next summer and finish his career in Miami rather than go elsewhere. It would be a great way to tie a bow on his final years as a pro and solidify him among the most beloved Heat players to wear the uniform.

If so, he must prove he can remain on the court and avoid the off-court jousting with higher-ups that spoiled his relationship with his previous three teams. He’s missed 99 regular season games in the five seasons he’s been with the Heat. Even amid this successful five-year run, there have always been whispers about Butler’s antics away from the court — good-natured or not — and how much the Heat would tolerate them if they weren’t winning.

That theory was tested at the end of this season when Butler missed Miami’s first-round loss against Boston with a knee injury he suffered in the Play-In Tournament. His absence was a microcosm of a disappointing Heat season marked by constant injury issues to their main contributors. This led to Riley teeing off on Butler and a few of his teammates during his news conference.

“We got a really good group of guys, and our No. 1 issue is player availability,” Riley said in June. “Having your guys playing every night.”

The biggest bombshell during that news conference was Riley’s response to a viral social media post in which Butler said the Heat would’ve beaten the Celtics and the Knicks had he been healthy during the playoffs. Considering Riley’s annoyance at Butler’s absences during the season, he wasn’t a fan of this kind of talk.


“If you’re not on the court playing against Boston or on the court playing against the New York Knicks, you should keep your mouth shut on the criticism of those teams,” Riley said.

It’s rare to hear a lead executive publicly and vehemently rebuke his star player based on a comment on social media, but Riley has never been afraid to express his feelings, especially when he thinks his teams are underachieving. Based on the talent the Heat had on the roster last season, it’s tough to disagree with his view.

Jimmy Butler and Heat reach a middle ground, but their future together remains murky (2)

Jimmy Butler reacts on the bench during the Heat’s playoff series versus the Celtics. His lack of availability is a big issue. (Michael Laughlin / USA Today)

The big question for Butler isn’t if he’ll get paid next offseason. He is still one of the most impactful two-way perimeter players in the league when he’s healthy and locked in. Some team will buy in on Butler’s capability to carry them through the playoffs, as he’s done multiple times in Miami.

But will it be the Heat, as Butler seems to desire? As important as it’ll be for Butler to land the plane at the end of his career in a way that satisfies him, Miami also must start evaluating what life after Butler looks like and how soon it wants to face that reality.

While Riley was critical of Butler last month, he was also clear about his star’s importance to the team’s success. The Heat, under Riley and head coach Erik Spoelstra, are always in “championship or bust” mode. They know they have no shot of getting that far into the postseason without Butler returning to form in 2024-25.

“Who moves the needle the most on our team is Jimmy,” Riley said. “Jimmy moves the needle the most. He’s an incredible player. What I said at the beginning about change is he’s got to give it some thought himself for this team to be what he wants it to be.”

However, if Butler plays out next season and enters free agency in 2025, he’ll be eligible to sign a four-year deal with the Heat for a projected $243 million or a three-year contract for a projected $171 million with a different team. That’s a large chunk of money to hand to a player turning 35 in September. Could it be more prudent for Miami to turn the page on the Butler era entirely?


Over the past few seasons, the Heat have begun building up young assets and relieving their salary-cap sheet in an attempt to lay a foundation for a future beyond Butler. The beauty of having a player like soon-to-be 27-year-old Bam Adebayo as its captain is that it’s allowed Miami to quietly operate within a Warriors-esque, two-timeline structure. They’ve had older players like Butler, Kyle Lowry and Kevin Love bring the intelligence and versatility required to compete in the playoffs. They’ve had players like newly acquired 30-year-old Terry Rozier who are closer to Adebayo’s timeline. Yet they’ve also started assembling a core of younger players like Tyler Herro (24), Jaime Jaquez Jr. (23), Nikola Jović (21) and 2024 first-round pick Kel’el Ware (20), who can be the building blocks next to Adebayo down the road.

Last season, the Heat were pursuing the opportunity to give away some of those young players to acquire Damian Lillard and lean all the way into a win-now mindset. After seeing the maturity displayed by Jaquez and Jović this season, perhaps it makes more sense to invest in these young players and prioritize them over other short-term solutions. But if that were the case, it wouldn’t make as much sense to commit such a large amount of money to keep Butler around. Butler playing out his current contract allows the Heat to avoid this dilemma for now, but they’ll have to face it head-on eventually.

If Butler is healthy next season and playing at a high level, perhaps the Heat’s decision will be easy. Miami historically loves to keep around older players it considers foundational to its culture, and Butler fits that description as much as anyone else on the roster.

However, if it’s another season of Butler missing 20-25 games and the Heat underachieving as a result, the future will look even murkier for both sides.

(Top photo: Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

Jimmy Butler and Heat reach a middle ground, but their future together remains murky (3)Jimmy Butler and Heat reach a middle ground, but their future together remains murky (4)

Will Guillory is a staff writer for The Athletic, covering the New Orleans Pelicans. Before joining The Athletic, he was a writer at The Times-Picayune/NOLA Media Group, and he's been on the Pelicans beat since 2016. He is a New Orleans native. Follow William on Twitter @WillGuillory

Jimmy Butler and Heat reach a middle ground, but their future together remains murky (2024)


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