NBA Playoffs: In Bubble, Butler Shows True Worth As Survivor, Star

By Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid)

It’s as simple as this, Aaron Rodgers.

If you no longer want any part of an organization whose general manager has begun to dig your grave even as you continue to withstand the rigors of professional quarterbacking with flying colors, then you should most certainly look for a change of scenery. You see how well things are working out for Tom Brady after he ended his longterm relationship with New England, right?

He found greener — and far warmer — pastures in Tampa Bay. Now while it may be tempting to move across country where friendlier climates and your childhood favorite 49ers play, remember, that team blew its chance with you years ago. Besides, the coldest dish of revenge you could serve that bay green and cheese gold-colored front office would be aligning yourself with its sworn enemy, the Chicago Bears.

That’s how you retaliate against Brian Gutekunst, who had the audacity to trade up to select Jordan Love in last year’s NFL Draft, and head coach Matt LaFleur, who was a little too eager to co-sign that move and chose Mason Crosby’s leg, not your invaluable arm, when it mattered most. After all, when you have a chance to really stick it to your ex you don’t date a stranger. You round the bases with the best friend.

Think about it.

Not only would you move from the hallowed ground at Lambeau Field to that at Soldier Field, but you’d also go from being one of the city’s most hated visitors to one of its most beloved residents a la Dennis Rodman.

Plus, you love it here. Or at least that’s what I took from how you talked about the chills you feel before game time listening to both Jim Cornelison belt out the national anthem and Bears fans equally resounding reaction. “Those tingles over the years have made that place a really special environment,” you said in December. “And I do have a lot of respect for the organization, the fan base, their team.”

And we for you, albeit begrudgingly.

But you can’t really blame us for that though, can you? I mean, you did author a 35-16 beat down with your 240 yards and four touchdowns just a few days after speaking so highly of practically all things Chicago. Not to mention that was the 10th victory of your career in the Windy City in the 13 times you’ve played here. Hard feelings are even harder to shake when they’re mixed with the envy of watching your arch-rival swap one hall-of-fame signal caller for another while our carousel of mediocrity at that position continues to turn nonstop.

You can change that. You can rip that ride from its lousy rails. It’ll take some convincing, maybe even a little acting on your part. You’re pretty believable in those State Farm commercials. How good are you at faking or threatening retirement?

As far as compensation goes, tell Gutekunst we can offer the 20th overall pick in this year’s draft and future first-round picks in each of the next two as well. There figures to be a nice crop of blue chip offensive lineman this summer. Something for him to keep in mind given his franchise left tackle, David Bakhtiari, will be playing the rest of his career on a surgically-repaired knee. Also, considering how Kevin King had two touchdowns scored on him and drew a crippling defensive pass interference penalty that essentially robbed you of the chance to play in your second Super Bowl, it seems an upgrade at cornerback is in order. We’ve got a promising one in Jaylon Johnson he might be interested in, too.

If that package doesn’t move him, perhaps we can throw in the tag-and-trade of Allen Robinson. We’d much rather have the two of you here, but if we must sacrifice our most lethal offensive threat then so be it. You’re that special to us. Even today, just a handful of months from beginning your 17th year in the NFL.

Look. Breaking up is hard. There’s no two ways about it. But once you finish sopping up the best comfort food our city has to offer, you’ll adjust. You’ll see that while the sum of the Bears’ current weapons don’t yet compare to that of Davante Adams, Aaron Jones and Robert Tonyan, you’ve had far less to work with in your career than David Montgomery, Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney.

None of this is to say you’d find the type of immediate success that Brady’s found with the Buccaneers. What it does mean is your arrival would, quite frankly, send an already rabid fanbase over the moon; push our mockery of a front office into credible standing; and our overworked defense into more favorable situations.

If nothing else, how satisfying would it be to flip the league’s oldest rivalry on its head, to force Gutekunst and LaFleur to forever rue the day they chose Love?

In Green Bay you had to escape the shadow of Brett Farve — who, against conventional wisdom, was cast out to the Jets of all teams after reaching near-deity status as a Cheeshead, his association with the Packers being the only one that can rival yours post-Bart Starr. Here, in Chicago, you’d cast a shadow as far as our franchise’s list of starting quarterbacks is long before you even threw your first pass in dark navy and orange.

The offseason is long. Our patience for a player your caliber has been woefully longer.

Just give it some thought.

Ok?

Every so often in text message exchanges I’ll make use of a GIF depicting Jimmy Butler’s playful reaction to then-Chicago Bulls teammate (and one-part athlete-to-three parts shooter) Doug McDermott’s serendipitous baseline drive and dunk four years ago.

The novelty of that animated photo, for me, has yet to wear as thin. The same could be said of the welcoming of Butler into discussions of the National Basketball Association’s best players.

Yet here he is, the-publicly-perceived-in-over-his-head-scourge-to-any-locker-room-disgraced-by-his-presence-would-be-superstar, headliner of a Miami Heat team now four victories shy of its first Finals appearance since LeBron James was endorsing titles his performances couldn’t cash after shedding the Indiana Pacers then the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks and its reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“I think we’re supposed to be here,” said Butler ahead of tonight’s Eastern Conference Final opener against the Boston Celtics. “That’s how we think of it.”

Butler’s bravado is resolute. It’s also manifested in wildly different forms ranging from his passing on an eight-digit contract extension for a near nine-digit max deal with the Bulls in 2015, to his occasional squabble with opponents of similar and larger statures, and his vehement challenge of his then-Minnesota Timberwolves teammates in an infamous practice in which it was reported he ran the table with a group of benchwarmers against an Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns-led first-team during scrimmages in 2018.

The eight-year-veteran has appeared to have found the symbiotic connection in Miami that he lacked with his previous three franchises. Perhaps that explains why he has infused, rather than envenomed, his teammates in South Florida with a similarly unshakable confidence.

“Jimmy Butler has absolutely not changed,” legendary Heat guard, and Butler’s one-time Bulls teammate Dwyane Wade, told the Miami Herald recently.

“You know that saying: Winning cures all. That’s what it is. You put Jimmy in an environment where his — I always say his crazy and I don’t want that to come off like Jimmy is crazy. But I always say Jimmy has his own way, his own style and it doesn’t fit with everyone. Along this journey, everyone has tried to make Jimmy the scapegoat. Jimmy is the problem. Jimmy is this, Jimmy is that. Then you put him with the right person who actually has the same kind of crazy with the Miami Heat organization overall, and it just makes sense.”

What’s less intelligible, to me anyway, is the vitriol stirred at the mere mention of his capability to assume the leading role on a legitimate title-contending team. What fizzled out in Chicago, never materialized in Minnesota and ended unexpectedly with four unlucky bounces in Philadelphia is unfolding like a fairy-tale right in front of our very eyes; and at Walt Disney World no less.

An equally as gritty Celtics team now awaits after gutting out its seven-game slugfest with the Toronto Raptors. The Heat have a 40.9% chance of advancing past the team that won two of their three match-ups this season, according to ESPNs matchup predictor.

“We don’t really use ‘underdog,'” said Butler, who averaged 28.5 points on 53.1 percent shooting from the field with 6 rebounds and 2.5 steals in the pair of losses. “We may say that we have a chip on our shoulder, but I don’t think that we’re the underdog. I think that we’re a really good team. We play together. Everybody knows their role. We just compete.”

In a series that features three other All-Stars including teammate Bam Adebayo and burgeoning superstar Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Butler is the creme de la creme — at least on the basis of Player Efficiency Rating, a measurement of a player’s per-minute statistical production. The two-time All-NBA Third Team and four-time All-Defensive Second Team selection boasts the 11th best PER at 23.11. The league average is 15.00. Tatum, the highly-thought-of 22-year-old who fuels the Celtics’ attack, yields the 37th highest rating at 20.45.

What can become muddled by nuanced statistics can be sorted out in real-time over the next couple of weeks as Butler continues to force his way into conversations regarding his place among the NBAs elite.

“Ultimately,” Wade said. “Jimmy’s whole thing this whole time is he just wants other guys that work like him, that play the game as hard as he does, that can execute the game when it matters and things of that nature. That’s how he built himself. He built himself on the work that he puts in on film and on wins and losses in the game. Some organizations may not be ready for that kind of player. It may be too much for coaches, it may be too much for other players because everyone has different goals. This has been Jimmy’s goal along.”

Win or lose, that image of Butler’s sly grin will remain in rotation for upcoming text message responses.

Though, four more victories will all but guarantee the arrival of a new go-to GIF.

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