Four teams in four years is never a good sign for a player in the NBA.
It signals red flags that may be too hard for some franchises to ignore. All signs pointed to that being the case for All-Star Jimmy Butler. After leaving the Chicago Bulls, Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers all in a blink of an eye, Butler had built the reputation of a locker room problem.
A late-round draft pick, Butler built a reputation in the league of being a self-made star. A star that would outwork anyone and a star that has an addiction to winning. Qualities that any player, coach or general manager would love to have on their side.
But four teams in four years unravelled that narrative and another one was being built. Butler was no longer perceived as a star, he was a malcontent who was now getting in the way of the very thing that mattered to him most - winning.
The same things that made Butler a star in Chicago were now being used against him as he bounced around the league. The passion and drive to win became offputting to some. His manic work ethic became a team divider. His self-made All-Star staus became an entitlement.
In the modern NBA player movement isn't celebrated but it's accepted. Ask for a trade and most will point the finger at the organization for getting a player to that point. Move around the league too much and the finger starts to be pointed at the player. What's he doing wrong? Why can't he fall in line? How selfish can he be?
In hindsight maybe Butler wasn't the problem. Maybe he was trying to be the solution and he never got the chance to prove it.
Winning is hard. No one knows that more than the Bulls, where Butler started his career. In his time in Chicago, Butler grew into an All-Star under the tutelage of Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau had helped the Bulls get back to relevance in the league. With a system and a solid foundation that looked to be headed towards a championship one day, Butler grew into the player we know him to be now. But things took a turn for the worst when the Bulls and Thibodeau parted ways.
The hardnosed defence-first style of coaching that Butler had enjoyed under Thibodeau was gone and replaced by the player-friendly Fred Hoiberg. As Butler was turning the corner and enjoying some of the best years of his career, the organization was going in the opposite direction. Butler wanted to win and the Bulls weren't ready for it.
No one batted an eye when Butler found a way to reunite with Thibodeau in Minnesota. In fact, he was deemed the missing piece to a young team ready to take the next step. But taking the next step meant elevating their expectations and work rate and some on the team couldn't get on the same page that Thibodeau and Butler needed them to be on - which led the organization to move on from their older All-Star to keep the younger ones happy.
Philadelphia seemed like the perfect spot for Butler to land in. The team was championship ready on paper. The city loved hard-working players like Butler - it seemed like a match made in heaven. Like in Minnesota, Philly quickly found out that Butler brought a different level of expectation and intensity daily. One that he felt he needed to win at the highest level. And like his time in Minnesota, when he turned up the heat not everyone was on board. This time Butler didn't have the coach's backing as he did in Minnesota and it led to offseason storylines that included whether or not the 76ers organization would be able to keep Butler under control.
All 30 teams in the NBA want to win a championship, but not every team is ready for it. Butler's been ready to win a championship for years but his teams weren't.
After signing with Miami, he has what he's been waiting for, an organization that's on the same page as him. An organization that wants to win a championship and they're ready to do it now.
It took Butler four teams in four years to find what he's been looking for, and now he's four wins away from the search being worth it.
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