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Jimmy Butler saved the Miami Heat. It's easy to forget that now. The Heat are a model organization, after all, and their failures are far rarer than their successes. But Miami had won only one playoff series in the five years since LeBron James left. Their balance sheet was bogged down with pricey contracts given to Hassan Whiteside, Kelly Olynyk, Dion Waiters, James Johnson and Tyler Johnson after the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. They were capped out with a lottery roster. There was no immediate hope of contending.

Meanwhile, as all of this was going on, Butler was playing a seemingly forgettable 2016-17 season with Dwyane Wade for the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls may not have gone anywhere, but while they played together, Wade sold Butler on the benefits of Heat culture. When he became a free agent two offseasons later, he chose the Heat. It didn't matter that the rest of the roster was in a state of flux. Butler fits within Miami's culture like a glove. The results speak for themselves. The Heat have been to the Finals twice with Butler.

And now, he's become perhaps the most common superstar in trade rumors this offseason. It's a stark change of pace not only because of his success in Miami, but because of the team's overall approach to roster-building. The Heat acquire stars. They don't give them away. Only a year ago, it looked as though Butler would be teaming up with Damian Lillard in Miami. Now his time with the Heat might be coming to a close.

So what's going on here? Why is Butler in the rumor mill? Where might he land? And what is ultimately going to happen?

Why he's in trade rumors

Reasons 1, 2 and 3 are financial. Butler reportedly wants a two-year max extension this offseason. That would keep him in Miami for a total of four years at roughly $214 million. Butler will turn 35 before the season. He has missed 110 regular-season games since joining the Heat in 2019. Even Pat Riley acknowledged that his availability would be a problem in negotiations. "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 at his end-of-season press conference. "That's the truth."

Riley said at that same press conference that the Heat "haven't made a decision" and "don't have to do it until 2025." Butler is not known for taking financial slights sitting down. When the Timberwolves refused to create the cap space needed to renegotiate and extend him in 2018, he responded with perhaps the most disruptive single practice in NBA history and a very public and messy trade demand.

Of course, even if money wasn't a problem, there are valid basketball reasons for trading Butler. The Heat have been a Play-In team in consecutive seasons. They are, frankly, not a very good team. Butler still has meaningful trade value today. That might not be true in a year or two. The Heat are already out multiple first-round picks from other trades. Moving Butler now could give them time to reorient the roster around Bam Adebayo and their other young players before eventually using those assets to jump back into the superstar trade market.

Why the Heat would keep him

Are you kidding? He's Jimmy Butler! Only two teams have reached the Finals in two of the past five seasons: Miami and Boston. The Celtics are significantly better and deeper than the Heat. Miami got there on the back of two legendary Butler runs. He's not only still a superstar when healthy, but he's a lure to other players. He nearly got Lillard to Miami last offseason. Perhaps he and Adebayo could successfully lure a different star this summer and get the Heat back into the title hunt.

Giving up a player of Butler's caliber would also just be distinctly un-Heat. Sure, the Heat lost LeBron James, but that was in free agency. Who was the last star Miami actively gave away? Probably Shaquille O'Neal? That was almost two decades ago, and even that move was more of a shakeup than a rebuilding effort as it landed another All-Star in Shawn Marion. Few teams are better at getting stars in the building than Miami. Would the Heat really want to explain to possible future additions why they were willing to give away an organizational fixture like Butler? Could they even stomach a brief reloading period? 

Riley is 79 years old. He's probably not going to do this much longer. There's something to be said for leaving the team in a position to succeed after he retires, but it's just hard to imagine him taking a step back instead of looking for a final push back up to the top of the mountain.

What destinations make sense?

Trading for Butler is a commitment to winning now. He's going to cost roughly $50 million in matching salary and a handful of valuable assets in a deal, but he's the rarely available star who plays both ends of the court and gets better in the postseason. This is an all-in type of move, and only a handful of teams are positioned to make it.

Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers would have to break up their supporting cast to do this. They'd have to find shooting on the margins and accept that life after this version of the roster would probably be bleak. But holy cow, imagine LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Jimmy Butler on a single team. That trio, both offensively and defensively, would be a nightmare for the rest of the league. The Lakers could get away with weaknesses elsewhere with those three players in place. Their three first-round picks would all likely have to be included in the deal. So would Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, and they'd have to throw in at least one of Gabe Vincent, Taurean Prince and D'Angelo Russell to match money. But this team could contend for the title. If that's what the Lakers want, Butler is the best fit on the market.

New York Knicks: New York's path to a deal is far easier than it would be for the Lakers. Julius Randle and Bojan Bogdanovic can match money. The Knicks have so many picks to trade that coming up with the necessary player value would be less important (though doesn't Deuce McBride seem like a class Heat player?) Tom Thibodeau has coached Butler in both Minnesota and Chicago, so he'd likely be comfortable with his peculiarities. The Knicks may prefer to wait for a younger star to hit the market, but Butler puts them neck-and-neck with the Celtics atop the East right now.

Philadelphia 76ers: Most other teams would need to match money to land Butler. The 76ers could absorb him into cap space, which would itself be meaningfully valuable to the Heat. Philadelphia has five tradable first-round picks as well, though given the lack of salary going back to the Heat, the 76ers wouldn't need to give up all of them. Butler and Embiid were great partners back in 2019. Ben Simmons and Brett Brown were problems back then. They're gone now. A Butler-Embiid-Tyrese Maxey trio would be the best three-headed monster in basketball.

What is the latest reporting?

The rest of the league has made it very clear that if the Heat won't extend Butler, there are other teams who will. In addition to the 76ers, who we covered above, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey reported that at least two other teams are willing to extend him. The Warriors are reportedly expected to be interested if he becomes available. The Athletic's Shams Charania said on The Pat McAfee Show that Butler would prefer to remain in Miami and the Heat would rather keep him, but until we get a sense of how extension talks go, he has to be considered a legitimate trade candidate.