Butler, Haslem, Heat, even in their absence, impacted NBA Finals in unique ways – The Denver Post



It turns out that even with their Game 7 loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, the Miami Heat had an impact on the NBA Finals.

At least that’s how it played out with Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and even Nemanja Bjelica.

While Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry emerged as MVP of the Finals, the series’ biggest revelation arguably was Golden State forward Andrew Wiggins.

Enter Butler.

It was the Butler seal of approval that convinced Warriors forward Draymond Green that Golden state got something special from the Minnesota Timberwolves at the 2020 NBA trading deadline, even after Wiggins’ uneven run under the coaching of Tom Thibodeau while playing alongside Butler in Minnesota.

“That trust has been building for two and a half years now since he got here,” Green said on his podcast of Wiggins. “A lot of people looked at that trade like, ‘Oh, that’s another piece they can move.’ We looked at the trade from the very beginning like that is a guy who can fit next to a healthy group absolutely well.

“When he first came here, and I’ll never forget, it was when Thibs wasn’t with the Knicks, and Thibs was like, ‘You’re going to love him. He competes. He defends.’ And he was telling us Jimmy loved him. And we all know how Jimmy Butler is. If you have any softness to you, Jimmy don’t like you. That’s how Jimmy is cut.”

Then there was Iguodala, also on Green’s podcast, mentioning how his season and a half with the Heat allowed him to return to the Warriors in a role similar to the one Udonis Haslem has carved out with the Heat.

“Things happen for a reason,” Iguodala said in the immediate wake of the Warriors’ championship, his fourth with Golden State. “And me going to Miami and experiencing the Miami Heat culture, that really helped me come back and then accept the role I had.

“Like I had really good days this year, but the body just wouldn’t hold up. But I knew that I could still be impactful and I still knew that we couldn’t let this year get by.”

Iguodala, 38, appeared in only seven of the Warriors’ playoff games, but the Haslem-like impact was evident.

“I didn’t think it would be possible as an NBA Finals MVP [which Iguodala won in 2015] that we probably felt your impact this year more than any year that you were competing and playing and dominating and clamping and settling our offense down and getting us into the position,” Green said. “I didn’t think that would be possible. I am 100 percent certain we don’t do this without you and your leadership and showing us the way.”

It was, in many ways, a rebuke to those who question a Haslem-like role, as Haslem, 42, mulls a return for a 20th season, with Iguodala yet to announce plans for a possible 19th.

Among Iguodala’s Heat teammates a year ago was journeyman Nemanja Bejelica, who jumped at the chance to join the Warriors for the veteran minimum at the start of last summer’s free-agency signing period.

Amid Warriors injuries that ultimately sidelined 2020 No. 2 pick James Wiseman for the entire season, Bjelica turned into a staple in Golden State’s rotation, appearing in 71 games during the regular season, 15 in the playoffs.

“Beli was huge for us,” said Iguodala, with the Heat moving on from Bjelica last summer in favor of P.J. Tucker and Markieff Morris, among others. “You know what I mean? Beli went out there and helped us win a championship.”

Beyond the Heat impact on the Warriors, Celtics coach Ime Udoka reflected at the close of the Finals about how his own Heat moment put the experience into a context, having been a San Antonio Spurs assistant coach in 2013 when Ray Allen’s miracle 3-pointer cost the Spurs a title, before the Spurs came back to defeat Allen and the Heat in the 2014 Finals.

“Obviously, losing on a buzzer-beater against Ray Allen when I was in San Antonio will kind of fuel you throughout a whole season,” Udoka said. “But this was a little bit different. We improved in a lot of areas, but fell short of our ultimate goal. Some guys didn’t play their best. That’s going to motivate guys throughout the season.

“Like I said, the message is everybody come back better. Let’s not be satisfied. It’s not guaranteed you’re going to be here. The East is getting tougher every year. They’ll come back better. We will as a staff, as well.”

IN THE LANE

BACK AT IT: Last summer, Omer Yurtseven’s service for Turkey came up short of an Olympic berth when his national team lost in a qualifying tournament in Vancouver. Instead, Yurtseven joined the Heat for summer league and dominated in Sacramento and Las Vegas. This summer, the Heat 7-footer is back at it on the international stage during qualifying for the 2023 World Cup. And this time, Turkey’s roster is loaded, including Furkan Korkmaz (Philadelphia 76ers), Cedi Osman (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets). Also on the Turkish national team is former University of Miami guard Shane Larkin, who has thrived in the Turkish League and in 2020 received Turkish citizenship.

BACK AT IT, TOO: Another player with Heat ties making an international appearance of note this summer is Goran Dragic, with the former Heat guard briefly ending his international retirement to join Luka Doncic again on the Slovenian national team. The two teammed to help win EuroBasket in 2017, with Dragic then stepping aside from international play. Dragic, 36, is an impending free agent, with the Dallas Mavericks apparently interested in bringing him aboard alongside Doncic. Also returning for national duty for Slovenia is former Heat guard Zoran Dragic, Goran’s brother.

BUSY GYM: Even after the Heat’s flurry of pre-draft workouts, the team’s practice facility will remain busy, with USA Basketball to utilize the space at FTX Arena for a training camp next weekend in advance of World Cup qualifying. While the NBA’s elite skip qualifying, there are familiar names on the roster that plays in Puerto Rico on July 1 and Cuba on July 4, including Heat 2017 summer prospect Eric Mika, as well as former Florida guard Michael Frazier, and former NBA players Jordan Bell, Quinn Cook, Langston Galloway and Noah Vonleh.

CHAMPIONSHIP LINEAGE: With the Warriors’ title, Gary Payton II helped put his father in the NBA record book as just the fifth father-son pairing with NBA championships. Gary Payton shared in the Heat’s 2006 championship at 37. Gary Payton II won this past week at 29. “It’s huge. It’s crazy,” the younger Payton said. “You know, never would have thought something like this would happen.” The other father-son champions: Matt Guokas Sr. (1947 Philadelphia Warriors) and Matt Guokas Jr. (1967 Philadelphia 76ers), Mychal Thompson (1987, ‘88 Los Angeles Lakers) and Klay Thompson (2015, ‘17, ‘18, ‘22 Warriors), Rick Barry (1975 Warriors) and Brent Barry (2005, ‘07 San Antonio Spurs), and Bill Walton (1977 Portland Trail Blazers, 1986 Celtics) and Luke Walton (2009, ‘10 Lakers).

THE FLIP SIDE: Boston’s Udoka said he did not feel the Celtics were the same team in the finals that beat the Heat in seven games in the East finals. “Just felt like we played probably our worst series of these playoffs,” he said. “If we play up to the standard of Milwaukee or the Miami series, it’s obviously a different ballgame, especially in Game 4 and 5 when we struggled in the fourth quarter.”

NUMBER

8. Active players in the NBA selected at No. 27 in the first round, the Heat’s draft slot on Thursday night: Cameron Thomas (currently with Nets, 2021), Udoka Azubuike (Jazz, 2020), Robert Williams (Celtics 2018), Kyle Kuzma (Wizards, 2017), Pascal Siakam (Raptors, 2016), Larry Nance Jr. (Pelicans, 2015), Bogdan Bogdanovic (Hawks, 2016) and Rudy Gobert (Jazz, 2013).

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