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Jimmy Butler, once a Heat hater, now eager to be in Miami

September 27, 2019
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Miami Heat guard Jimmy Butler (22) shakes hands with Miami Heat President Pat Riley, left, following an NBA basketball news conference, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Miami. Butler spoke publicly for the first time since the July trade that brought him to South Florida as the new face of the franchise. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
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Miami Heat guard Jimmy Butler (22) shakes hands with Miami Heat President Pat Riley, left, following an NBA basketball news conference, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019, in Miami. Butler spoke publicly for the first time since the July trade that brought him to South Florida as the new face of the franchise. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI (AP) — Jimmy Butler once said he would never wear a Miami Heat uniform. That was when he was in Chicago, part of a Bulls team that disliked the Heat.

He remembers saying those words.

And now he wants every opponent to keep hating Miami.

Butler held his introductory news conference in Miami on Friday, almost three months after he officially became part of the Heat. He is the new centerpiece of a team that will have to adjust to the retirement of Dwyane Wade in its effort to find a way back to the postseason. The four-time All-Star said he already understands the demands that the Heat put on players, and that’s the selling point he enjoyed most.

“It’s the culture that I hear about all the time,” Butler said. “The work that you put in every single day. The winning habits, the winning ways. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be a part of that. I was excited to have an opportunity to come here, to be here, but when I keep hearing about this culture I was like, ‘I need that in my life.’”

Miami has already gotten tastes of Butler’s work ethic and his fiery nature. He’s arrived at 4 a.m. for some workouts, and brought a few teammates in for 6 a.m. sessions. The Heat social-media department posted a video this week of Butler playing pickup with teammates, yelling and clapping and gesturing as managing general partner Micky Arison and many members of the staff looked on.

Fans loved it; the clip was viewed more than 300,000 times in the first 36 hours after posting.

They might want to get used to it, since the stories about how Butler loves to compete in practice are not new.

“I just hoop,” Butler said. “I talk a little bit. I love to compete. I want my guys to know, I’m not bad at what I do. I can play basketball a little bit and I think sometimes you’ve got to let them know. I’m me. I’m my purest form. And I probably get carried away a little bit, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

The Heat view Butler as one of the league’s most complete two-way players, and the numbers support their belief. His averages last season — 18.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.9 steals per game — were matched by only three other players in the league. Butler is the lone NBA player to post those averages in each of the last three seasons.

He’s also exceptional at the line for a team in desperate need of improvement in that department. Butler made 85.5% of his free throws last season; the Heat shot 69.5%, the worst percentage by any NBA team in the last three years.

“The one thing that I feel that I owe the franchise and this city is to put the most competitive team on the court that we can and one that will compete for championships,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “I think having Jimmy Butler here is a step in that direction, I think for real. ... That is what I look for and that is what I manage for and I know that’s what he’s playing for.”

Riley said he believes Butler is one of the league’s 10 best players.

“We want to win,” Riley said. “We want to win big. That’s it.”

At $32.7 million this season, Butler is commanding the highest salary in Heat history. It’s more than symbolic coincidence that he’s been given the locker next to the one that Wade still technically occupies; Wade is retired and cleaned out his stall last spring, but his nameplate still adorns the spot for now.

This was Wade’s team.

It’s now almost certainly going to be considered Butler’s team, though Riley insists that he will not have to single-handedly carry the leadership role. Butler spoke about how he wants to get to know the Heat fans. He spoke about his love of playing dominoes, a big part of Miami’s heavily Latin-flavored culture. And he wants Miami to be as disliked now as the Heat were when he was trying to beat them.

“I want other teams to hate us,” Butler said.

OLYNYK UPDATE: Riley said Heat center Kelly Olynyk, who suffered a bone bruise in his right knee while playing with Canada in its tuneup games for the World Cup, is not expected to be available for the first practice of training camp on Tuesday in West Palm Beach, Florida. All other 19 Heat players on the roster will be ready to go Tuesday, Riley said. There’s no timetable for Olynyk’s return, though there remains expectation that he may have time to get ready for the start of the regular season.

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