Now that Jimmy Butler has dragged the Miami Heat from deep dark-horse dungeon and into the NBA Finals, former teammate Andrew Wiggins, now with the Warriors, seems genuinely pleased.
And, no, that doesn’t square with tales of conflict from the past.
In their year-plus together as Minnesota Timberwolves, the results were mixed. There was undeniable tension, which is common between disparate personalities. Butler is blowtorch hot, while Wiggins stays cool, with the occasional flareup.
He was a pup, just 22 when Jimmy Firebrand arrived in Minneapolis. Butler, 28, didn’t think much of Wiggins’ competitive desire and, feeling the same about talented center Karl-Anthony Towns, openly questioned the heart of both. That created a fissure, prompting the front office to trade Butler, with one of Wiggins’ older brothers celebrating the deal.
“Hallelujah,” Nick Wiggins tweeted.
That tweet was later deleted, but Nick’s initial implication needed no explanation. His baby brother was relieved, maybe delighted, that Butler was sent away.
Nearly two years later, in this NBA postseason, Andrew Wiggins is a Miami fan. Moreover, he’s a Butler booster, speaking as though any smoke that existed between them has cleared.
“I've been rooting for [the Heat],” Wiggins said Monday after the Warriors practiced at Chase Center. “Jimmy, he was a great teammate. An ultimate competitor. What he's brought over there, you know, to bring those guys to the Finals, it’s a serious accomplishment. It just shows what he can do.”
Here is where Wiggins exhibits a recall that should resonate internally, or at least the Warriors would like to believe.
“Even when we were in Minnesota,” Wiggins said, “everyone forgets we were third in a very packed West before (Butler) got hurt.”
The point expressed is that Wiggins, style clashes notwithstanding, realizes Butler is insanely passionate about winning. And that it can be contagious. And successful.
“He brings the best out of the people,” Wiggins said of Butler. “He's going to put that battery in your bag, and you’re going to go. You can see what he’s doing to all the young guys, how all their games are elevated. That’s something Jimmy brings to the table.”
Butler’s unwillingness to compromise in pursuit of victory is not unlike that of Draymond Green, who has spent most of his career lighting fires beneath the Warriors-- and not always to the enjoyment of his teammates.
And Wiggins, now 25 and granted the favor of a fresh start, might be better equipped to deliver a positive response to a demanding environment.
Upon being traded to the Warriors last February, Wiggins noted the difference in culture between his new team and the Timberwolves. The Warriors, with multiple All-Stars, were coming off five consecutive trips to the Finals, three of which they won. Minnesota has made one playoff appearance in 15 seasons -- and Butler was the driving force for it.
Yet there were whispers that he was a corrosive presence in the locker room, stamped by some with the “locker-room cancer” label.
“Yeah,” Wiggins said, acknowledging the tag some had placed on Butler, “but I feel like that was from certain people who couldn't handle certain situations. I feel like the majority of people, even including me, we loved playing with Jimmy.
“You knew you’re with somebody that was going to bring it every night. And someone who was going to compete every night when we were all on the floor. He’s a dawg.”
Maybe Wiggins is, perhaps subconsciously, primed to prove Butler wrong. Or maybe Wiggins is out to prove Butler right and is determined to mine the vast potential many visualized when he was the first overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr seems to see a fire that Butler -- and others -- have tried to find. Kerr, along with director of sports medicine Rick Celebrini and player-development coach Seth Cooper, spent time this summer observing Wiggins' workouts in Southern California and came away impressed.
“Andrew is really, really diligent,” Kerr said Monday. “He's a worker. He works every single day. He puts his time in, and he's in great shape all the time.”
Hmm. One of the defining characteristics of Butler is his work ethic. The 4:30 a.m. trips to the gym. The postgame shooting sessions. The fervent search for the best of himself, as well as that of his teammates. It’s all paying off, with Miami wearing down three formidable postseason opponents to reach the Finals.
Wiggins witnessed it. Saw teams wilting under the Heat’s relentless assaults and became enamored. If he truly likes what he's watching, the fury and fire, all the Warriors would ask is that he commits to finding his own.