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Jimmy Butler is a perfect fit in Miami, and there's the rub for Lakers, Clippers

By Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

ORLANDO, Fla. - The Clippers and the Lakers built their summers of 2019 around the pursuit of stars, the Clippers landing free agency's biggest get, signing Kawhi Leonard while dealing for Paul George.

The Lakers pushed their chips all-in on Anthony Davis and spent those early days of free agency getting dragged along by Leonard, their top priority too.

Across the country, another big-name free agent sat down for dinner with Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and executive Pat Riley. They blasted music from one of his favorite singers, Dermot Kennedy, and without him hearing the Heat's pitch, they convinced him.

"We were talking shop and he interrupted Pat and I after dinner, probably five minutes into just a conversation, and he said, 'By the way, I'm in,' " Spoelstra recalled recently.

And with that, the Heat landed Jimmy Butler in a major sign-and-trade deal with Philadelphia, the star free agent who actually got his team to the NBA Finals.

"I was like, 'I'm home.' It's easy," Butler said after clinching his first trip to the NBA Finals. "Obviously (Dwyane Wade) told me about it. I wanted parts of that, the work, the culture, the word that everybody uses. I know y'all are tired of hearing it, but it's real. More than anything, they wanted me to be here.

 

"They told me, like, 'Yo, you're the guy that we want. We're coming after you.' It was like, 'Say no more.' To be wanted, that's what anybody wants in the world."

Timing prevented the Lakers and Clippers from pursuing Butler. The Clippers were pursuing Leonard and Kevin Durant ahead of Butler. Same goes for the Lakers, who had taken aim at a third superstar to join LeBron James and Davis.

In addition to timing - Butler was one of the first top free agents to commit - his style of leadership might not have fit with the Lakers or the Clippers.

Butler, the kind of player who puts winning above everything, has rubbed some the wrong way because he is willing to tell people what they need to do to be successful. But would that have meshed with Leonard, a player committed to doing things his way? Would it have worked with James and Davis?

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