Everyone has had that coworker who kind of sucks but is really good at his job so the manager looks the other way when Glen takes 20 minute out of the weekly staff meeting to brag about his weekend jet skiing. Yeah, he’s annoying, but holy shit can he sell the hell out of reasonably priced Kias. Dwight Howard was the king of this category. Essentially a more flatulent Marcelo who tried way too hard to be as gregarious as Shaq, it became apparent that once his skills diminished — and even a little before they didn’t — teams and teammates couldn’t get rid of him fast enough.
This isn’t a how heinous of a person can a player be and still get signed to catch passes from Tom Brady argument. I’m talking about guys whose only alleged crime is just being really hard to work with, and I think we can put Jimmy Butler on the list, so let’s see where he stacks up against Howard.
Look, I love Jimmy. I think Jimmy is great. He plays defense, gives a shit, and has enough confidence to go toe to toe with great players and enough self awareness not to attempt 15 3s per game. Miami got waxed in Game 2, and unsurprisingly Butler was the best player on his team. The self-appointed leader of the Heat posted 29, 6 and 3 on 11 of 18 shooting, and after the game said the Celtics tried and succeeded in embarrassing the home team.
That’s pretty boilerplate post-beatdown stuff, but we know all about the other issues, like the verbal altercation with coach Erik Spoelstra, and the weird interview after beating Philly in the conference semis during which he trolled the 76ers for signing Tobias Harris, who was already signed when that happened, and added that he was proud of Joel Embiid and still wished he was on his team. Imagined slights aren’t new, they’re just tiresome and thirsting for a former teammate like it’s the girl who got away is an odd, unnecessary thing to do even if he expressed how much he loves the Miami organization during the same interview. Was he tampering, or lining up an exit strategy for when Pat Riley finally snaps?
Jimmy Buckets is on record saying he one day wants to sell a $100 cup of coffee. The owner of BigFace Brand coffee started the business by charging everyone in the Bubble $20 for a cup, and I guess he thought that was the starting price for something you can get for free if you walk into the right gas station. I know that’s downplaying the pretentious coffee industry, but I feel like $20 is a lot even for Starbucks.
So, now that we’ve established a couple of Butler’s credentials, where does he line up against Howard as a player? Both have led their teams to an NBA Finals, where each lost to the Lakers. Howard’s team had a series win over LeBron James, which not a lot of players can boast about, including Butler.
Orlando Magic Howard was first team All-NBA five times, and although Butler has four All-NBA selections, all of them were third team. While it may seem like Butler’s relevance has lasted longer than Howard’s eight-year run of All-Star appearances, the Jimmy who gets more than 20 points per game has only been around eight years himself, with six All-Star nods.
If Miami makes it to the NBA Finals this year, the case for Butler being the more accomplished player can be made solely because playoff success matters so much. It’s still a very tight contest, though, and comes down to who’s more grating as a person. Howard’s ring with the Lakers doesn’t really count in the same context. He was a glorified role player, and yet was still in the top five reasons why people didn’t want the Lakers to win the Bubble title.
To be that annoying seven years removed from your last All-Star appearance is an accomplishment that takes an immense amount of jackass-ery to pull off. Say Jimmy’s performance falls off a cliff, and he’s on his fifth team in five years after getting ran out at each stop for carrying himself like Kenny Powers without a drug problem, would NBA fans in general actively root against Butler in the same fashion as Dwight?
You know what, I don’t think so. I believe enough people enjoy Jimmy’s particular brand of alpha male syndrome to still think what he did to Karl Anthony-Towns was tough love and not a made-for-ESPN trade request. It’s basically what Kobe Bryant did to Howard, only Minnesota sided with the big man over the shooting guard.
The Kobe part also could play a factor in this because once he deemed Dwight a foolish simpleton, Howard has been unable to shake that distinction.
No one outside of a few floundering front offices and a handful of media members has called Butler on his shit. It would take a lot of clout and greatness to change the book on Butler, and what NBA player is so deified that he could even pull it off?
Obviously, LeBron is a candidate, and would even be the favorite if not for the large contingent of haters who would love to see Jimmy chat shit with the King. The same logic goes for Steph Curry in Golden State even though he has far less detractors. Is Giannis Antetokuonmpo there yet? If Butler wound up on the Bucks, and Giannis, who seems to love most everyone, was like fuck that guy, how differently would people view Jimmy’s love of loud, shitty music and Michelob Ultra?
Butler the player allows Butler the person to get away with being the office’s endearing asshole. Ideally, the less-athletic part of his career goes better than Howard’s spiral into irrelevance because teammates and organizations tolerate difficult people a lot less when the production doesn’t offset the headache.