They go about it in opposite ways, but Neymar and Jimmy Butler end in the same place. They’re both very good to great players. They’re billed as epicenters. It’s just as important, if not more so, that they’re seen as THE guys than just being them. Neymar goes about it with flash and showmanship, whereas Butler makes his effort and determination and work the story, but it’s two sides of the same coin. When the chips are really down, when it’s time to make all that hype worth it, you’ll need someone else.
Butler was just another guy for the Heat throughout the Finals, on a team that’s essentially full of just another guy that Erik Spoelstra super conducts into something for just long enough to be annoying. He turned down shots, he bricked layups, he stood in the corner. And yet he could be comfortable in the knowledge that when Bam Adebayo was puking up a lung at both ends of the floor, or Max Strus or Duncan Robinson or Gabe Vincent had their skeletons leave their skin such was the lengths they went to outplay their profiles, Butler would be credited for his leadership or the way he makes his teammates better.
Oh sure, he was hurt most will say. There’s always an out. Much like Neymar, the way Butler demands to be central to everything to that everyone can see him be central to everything means he runs up the miles on his body. The bruises and sores are real. The question is whether they’re totally necessary, or would either allow for a system of play that takes them out of the center of their team’s universe for even a second.
Neymar can at least claim to have won all there is to win at the club level playing second or third fiddle to Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez at Barcelona. There was a time when he was content to be in a supporting role. Butler never has been, and the idea that he would welcome a star to eclipse his in Miami is high comedy.
Overall, the NBA Finals was a lesson on what happens to a team completely based on effort, chemistry, and system runs into one with genuine talent. It gets shotgun dropkicked back into the much from which it unfortunately escaped but can never truly leave. Winning on “culture” is hockey bullshit. You know when the Heat’s “culture” works? When it has LeBron James. They can take their zone defense and a bunch of whos-its launching threes and rolling sevens for a few weeks back to the A-10 or wherever the fuck it really belongs.
The Heat couldn’t even pull off their signature move, which is to be in place when the other team’s best player gets hurt. Though based on his postgame comments, perhaps if the Heat had extended the series to six games Nikola Jokic’s overwhelming desire to just go home would have sufficed for their needs.
The Nuggets were there for the taking in Game 5 too, and had the Heat won it might have gotten some gremlins jumping in Denver’s head. The Nuggets were a Pollack-painting from both the three-point line and the free throw line, and treated the ball sometimes like it was covered in syphilis. The Heat only needed a good game from Butler to go back to Miami. They didn’t get it.
A postseason surgery could be announced tomorrow on an ankle. It’ll be followed, if not preceded, by an invitation to all media members to watch him shoot free throws in the recovery room, such is his need to make behind-the-scenes work the main attraction. He’ll fool most everyone too.
Butler is a rhythm guitarist, and maybe the best rhythm guitarist, trying to play lead. The hooks are all there but the solos are meandering and self-serving. But spend enough time and energy selling everyone that you’re the guy and they may stop bothering to check whether you are or not. Ask Neymar.
Speaking of brutal losses, the University of Texas baseball team found a unique way to bork themselves out of a trip to Omaha last night:
It’s rare you can watch a team’s College World Series berth literally disappear into the night, but here we are.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.