Jimmy Butler, playing for his fourth NBA franchise since 2017, has led the Miami Heat on a surprising run through the Eastern Conference all the way into the NBA Finals against the Lakers. In Sunday’s clincher, Butler had 22 points and eight assists — a trademark Butler game.
Stefon Diggs, playing for his second NFL franchise in two seasons, has helped the Buffalo Bills to a 3-0 record after a thrilling win Sunday over the Rams.
The Wolves and Vikings, who traded Butler and Diggs after both players became disenchanted with their situations here, are … well, they are not playing in the NBA finals nor 3-0. They are both instead looking at uphill climbs, to say the least, when it comes to being competitive.
It is too reductive to draw straight lines between the success and failure of each player and/or team after the trades. While it’s fair to say the Wolves would be a better team with Butler on their roster and the Vikings would be a better team with Diggs on their roster, both received talent in return that might lead to success in the future.
And really, I’m not here to pour salt in these wounds. Rather, I continue to be struck by just how similar Butler and Diggs are — initially by their relationships to our local teams, but increasingly in their personalities as distance allows more examination.
Both have a playful side and are quite engaging in interview settings when they want to be. Both are underdogs — Butler as a late first-round pick, Diggs as a fifth-round pick — who play like they constantly have something to prove while also maintaining outsized egos even by athlete standards.
Both forced their way out of Minnesota not in the midst of failure but after success: Butler led the Wolves in 2017-18 to 47 wins and their first playoff appearance since 2004; Diggs co-authored a miracle in the 2017 playoffs and was a huge driving force behind getting the Vikings back to the postseason last year.
Sure, both of them in actions and words made it clear they didn’t want to be here and clashed with teammates — most notably Kirk Cousins for Diggs and Karl-Anthony Towns/Andrew Wiggins for Butler. But their beefs (beeves?) seemed to be primarily professional and not personal.
Butler and Diggs, being hypercompetitive and not given to complacency, appraised their situations in Minnesota and seemingly decided: Sure, we accomplished something. But this is as good as it’s going to get with this cast of characters.
Butler first went to Philadelphia, where the 76ers lost on a second-round, Game 7 buzzer beater to eventual champion Toronto. But again it seemed he sensed that wasn’t the right fit. Maybe he didn’t want to share the spotlight with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. More likely he didn’t think that was the right mix to win a title.
So Butler went to Miami, and some of us assumed he was taking a step back in his quest for a title. And now here he is in the finals during his first season there.
Jimmy is not for everyone. But he is a shrewd — maybe even ruthless — evaluator of what is best for him.
Diggs has more to prove to show he’s in the same category, but a 3-0 start in Buffalo during which he has caught 20 passes for 288 yards and two touchdowns is an impressive beginning.
If he needs any more motivation to keep pushing, Diggs can just watch Butler — his kindred spirit — trying to take down LeBron in the finals.