Pat Riley: ‘Jimmy chose us.’ Who will be next to choose Heat? Also, why Riley loves Butler

Anthony Chiang
·6 min read

When it comes to the possibility of adding another superstar, it could be as simple as a player choosing the Miami Heat rather than a complex and elaborate sales pitch from the organization.

After all, that’s how the Heat landed All-Star Jimmy Butler despite having no cap space last offseason.

“Jimmy chose us. He chose us,” Heat president Pat Riley said during his season-ending news conference Friday. “He chose this team, this owner, this coach, this president, this city. He did. He chose us. And, we knew the first night that we met with them on July 1, he let us know that. ‘Stop. You don’t have to talk about it. Let’s talk about what we’re going to build here.’ And we drank wine and consummated a deal. ... He chose us.”

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It could also be as simple as a player choosing to team up with the Heat’s All-Star duo of Bam Adebayo and Butler, who are considered two of the best two-way players in the NBA. Adebayo and Butler combined to average 35.8 points on 24.1 shots, 16.9 rebounds and 11.1 assists this past season.

“Jimmy is a whale or an orca,” Riley said. “He’s great for us to have as somebody that other players can look at and say, ‘Well I want to be somewhere like that where I feel that way about the team and feel that way about the city.’ Jimmy is very sincere. And we’re fortunate to have him. So it’s just a great addition to our team, our city, to our state, and to have all the young guys around him to help him those nights when maybe he might not be having the greatest night.

“I have not ever witnessed a player that good, who can do so many things and be that unselfish and not care about whether he gets 10 or 40 points or a triple-double or single digits. He just wants to win, and that’s what you want. And he knows when you have to take it to another level, he’s capable of taking it to another level. And he knows when other guys might be struggling, he says well ‘our shooting is not good tonight or we’re turning the ball over,’ and he just takes over. You need players like that in this league to advance far, and we’re glad to have him and we’d like to have some more if we could find them.”

The Heat needs to make a trade to add a max-level star this offseason. The league and union haven’t determined next season’s salary cap and luxury tax line yet, but the expectation is Miami can only create up to about $22 million in cap space, including cap holds, if it renounces the rights to its six impending free agents (Jae Crowder, Goran Dragic, Udonis Haslem, Solomon Hill, Derrick Jones Jr. and Meyers Leonard) and the cap ends up remaining flat with this past season’s numbers ($109 million cap, $132.6 million tax line) also used next season.

But the Heat is on track to enter the 2021 offseason — as long as it doesn’t commit any significant money past 2020-21 this offseason — with enough cap space to sign a max-level free agent. The 2021 free agent class could be headlined by two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Along with Antetokounmpo, the list of those who could potentially be free agents in 2021 includes Victor Oladipo, Anthony Davis, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert. Also, Donovan Mitchell is set to become a restricted free agent in 2021, and LeBron James, Blake Griffin, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Jrue Holiday and Chris Paul have player options to become free agents that offseason.

“We’re going to remain fluid,” Riley said of the Heat’s approach this offseason. “And whatever presents itself to us, we’ll look at it. As I said, first things first, and I don’t want to contradict myself. I’d really like to take care of our own [players] in some way shape or form. But we also want that other box to be filled, which is called flexibility. We’ll see what happens. ... We have a good idea of what we want to do, and I think we’ll stay the course on that.”

THE BUTLER-RILEY RELATIONSHIP

Butler’s love for Riley is well documented, noting during the playoff run that he’s “a huge reason why I’m [with the Heat].”

How would Riley describe the relationship he has built with Butler in their first season working together?

“My relationship with him this year would be one that’s outside of the box because I don’t want to get in the way of what Erik Spoelstra is teaching him and his coaching staff,” Riley said. “So we do talk and we text, they are short. He’s our leader, he’s our best player. So I don’t really want to interfere on that basis every single night texting guys. They probably get their phone blown up every single night. As long as he taps and throws me a heart back, then I’m cool. But we’ve had some good conversations, and those conversations are around what he does.

“He’s a competitor, he works hard, he’s in great shape. I think he loves it here and I think he loves it here because we don’t bother him that much. We know what he’s going to do and what he can do, and I think you can form a real bond sometimes with body language, with silence, with nods from my seat to the court without having to have long conversations with these guys. I love Jimmy Butler.”

How much longer does Riley want to lead the Heat?

“As long as [owner] Micky [Arison] wants me to do it,” Riley said. “If you guys would stop printing my age in every article, then nobody will think I’m 75 years old. So that’s the first thing. I love this, I love this team. This is one of my favorite teams now. So I’m here as long as Micky wants me here, and Nick [Arison]. I have a great relationship with Micky and now Nick, the CEO. [General manager] Andy [Elisburg] and I are fused at the hip, think alike, talk alike. We know what has to be done. To have Andy is incredible for me and to be able to manage Spo, this is a dream for me this late.”