Perhaps not to stay, but his ticket to South Florida was booked. The early-December meeting, reunion if you will, was set with Pat Riley.
And then the Los Angeles Clippers said take-it-or-leave-it, not for as much as the New Jersey Nets bid in free agency, but for more than the San Antonio Spurs offered. Butler felt he couldn’t wait, even if it meant putting a friend on hold.
“I was very close to coming back,” Butler, the Heat’s first-round pick in 2002 NBA Draft, said Wednesday, when the Heat faced the Clippers at Staples Center. “It was very close. I talked to my agent and I went to visit San Antonio and after I went to visit New Jersey, my next visit would have been Miami.”
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That’s when the Clippers not only sprung their three-year, $ 24 million offer, but said they needed an immediate decision from the veteran small forward, as if they knew the sway Riley and Dwyane Wade might hold.
“The Clippers had put an offer on the table that I couldn’t refuse,” Butler said on the night his 20 points went a long way toward defeating the Heat in overtime.
Even before pen was put to paper with the Clippers on Dec. 8, word spread of Butler bypassing the Nets’ $ 30 million bid, as well as the Spurs’ $ 21 million pitch.
The Heat didn’t have as much to offer, not even a starting job, with LeBron James and Wade in place, but they had something nearly as appealing, an enduring friendship.
“Dwyane texted me and said, ‘If it’s true what I’m reading, congratulations. But I hope it ain’t true yet,’ ” Butler said.
“I hit him back,” Butler said, “and I talked to him and just told him that, ‘Yeah, it’s true I’m coming to the Clippers.’ He was happy for me.”
To some, Butler-to-Heat was a fit that made minimal sense, since Butler is not the defender that Shane Battier is, and with the Heat instead signing Battier for half of what Butler received.
But Butler insisted it was more than a flirtation, still appreciative that the Heat stopped his draft-day slide at No. 10 in 2002, amid erroneous rumors of a bullet or even bullets being lodged in Butler’s knee.
“Going back tugged at me real heavy, because I always considered that home,” he said. “That was the team and the organization that took the risk through everything I was going through on draft night.
“I’m a loyal guy. I felt a sense of loyalty to stay committed to the Miami Heat. I was really tugged that way. I would have done it. I would have been happy there, playing winning basketball, even if I wasn’t starting.”
As much as having to bypass the Heat tugged at Butler, so did being unable to face the Heat in last season’s NBA Finals, sidelined on New Year’s Day 2011 by what ultimately proved to be a season-ending ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee.
He constantly pushed the Mavericks’ coaching staff to at least suit up for that series. Instead, he essentially won a championship ring in absentia.
“Man, it was crazy, because I really wanted to be out there and I was wishing and hoping that there would have been a chance for me to play,” he said. “But, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to.
“But, still, to be on the winning side of that, it felt great and hopefully I’ll see them again this year in the Finals.”