The Miami Heat have been busy this offseason already. Their biggest move, and arguably the biggest of free agency that doesn't involve the Los Angeles Lakers and Russell Westbrook, was acquiring Kyle Lowry in exchange for Goran Dragic and big man Precious Achiuwa. Lowry is an excellent fit with the team as currently constructed, capable of spacing the floor and helping run the offense while embodying the in-your-face defensive mentality the Heat have always loved. In trading for Lowry, Pat Riley also gave him a new three-year deal worth $90 million.
It was not the most money Riley handed out this summer, though. The Heat also gave Jimmy Butler a new four-year extension worth a whopping $184 million. It was reported Miami planned to do so earlier in the week but didn't become official until today.
It's understandable why they did this. It was a move they needed to make to ensure Butler stuck around for the duration of Lowry's contract, which is now the window Miami has to win another title. There is nobody who personifies Heat Culture like Butler. He is their shining ideal of everything a person who wants to play basketball for Miami can and should be.
But this is a huge, huge mistake. Butler will be 32 years-old when next season begins. He'll be making near $40 million for the duration of the deal. For the reasons listed above and the fact that Butler was instrumental in getting the Heat back to the Finals in the bubble playoffs, Miami didn't have the option to try and get Butler at a discount. It was their only choice. They're going to regret it.
It's not that Butler's game won't age well. He's a midrange maestro and draw fouls at a very high rate. He beats his defender with strength and positioning rather than athleticism, and the same goes for his game on the defensive end. His vertical and lateral quickness will decline in the next few years but it shouldn't affect his ability to get to his spot and stay in front of his man. He isn't yet ancient by NBA standards, either. I would be more concerned about Lowry's ability to deliver going into his age-38 season in the final year of his three-year deal with the team than Butler's to produce when he's turning 36.
The biggest problem here is that Butler has a lot of miles on the tires. This is a man who played under Tom Thibodeau for over half his career to this point. He was a late bloomer in the pros (relatively speaking), but he still averaged over 35 minutes per game for five straight seasons. He's averaged at least 33 minutes per game for eight consecutive seasons.
Butler has never missed the majority of any season, but he also hasn't played 82 games since 2012. He usually misses double-digit games every year for various minor maladies. Last year he dealt with a COVID diagnosis, which hopefully won't be a problem next year, but he also missed a handful of games early in the year after spraining his ankle.
Butler is a great player and will fit like a glove with Lowry. The Heat will be legitimate contenders this season if everything breaks right. But Miami has sacrificed a ton of their future flexibility by investing in a player who has played a ton of basketball. Injuries have already reared its ugly head with Butler in a Miami uniform. If Butler's body begins to break down, the Heat gave a max contract to a guy whose availability is always in question with no easy way out or paths to build up depth behind him.
The Heat didn't really have a choice in giving Butler this deal and Riley probably did so with a big smile on his face. But things can turn sour quickly in the NBA. Miami is just hoping wear-and-tear doesn't prove them wrong. The thing is, the odds are not in their favor.