Three years and change after the trade that sparked the Bulls rebuild, Jimmy Butler is going to the NBA Finals. With the Miami Heat.
In Butler’s first year in South Beach, he helped lead an upstart bunch through the league-best Milwaukee Bucks and uber-talented Boston Celtics in the second round and Eastern Conference finals, respectively. And as a No. 5 seed at that. It’s the first time a team seeded lower than fourth in their conference since the 1999 New York Knicks (No. 8).
Put simply, it’s one of the more improbable Finals runs in recent memory, made even more unnatural by the circumstances it was completed under. A special moment for a special group, headlined by Butler, but augmented by about as bright a young core as exists in the league.
Reactions from across the NBA universe matched the tenor of that excitement. Heat legend and former Bulls teammate (slash double agent?) Dwyane Wade was off the wall.
Or maybe it was just the caffeine high.
JJ Redick — a teammate of Butler’s with the Philadelphia 76ers, another franchise left worse off for letting him go — concurred.
Jamal Crawford never crossed paths with Butler in Chicago, but respects game.
Chance The Rapper agreed with that sentiment.
As he has at every turn in his underdog career, Butler got the last laugh by lapping all the teams that scorned him in Chicago, Minnesota and Philadelphia. The former two remain rebuilding, while the 76ers find themselves in cap hell with an imbalanced roster after being swept out of the first round this season.
Meanwhile, Butler is four wins from basketball nirvana. Can the Heat finish the job? Game 1 tips Wednesday evening against the Los Angeles Lakers and another old friend, LeBron James.