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Miami’s start will decide a playoff berth

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...and it will probably only take a month.

NBA: Preseason-Atlanta Hawks at Miami Heat Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Shooting guard Jimmy Butler’s style has a reputation for being blunt and abrupt in the best of situations, abrasive in the worst. But following a promising preseason, the youth on the Miami Heat seem to be gelling with the All-Star, a trend that will provide a playoff spot for South Beach if it continues into the regular season.

The good news: Heat fans will only need about a month to tell how the 2019-2020 season plays out. The bad news: Miami only has around a month. Why?

Butler’s hard nose style is sure to break down the youth of Miami, but will they grow or languish? That is the massive margin between success and disaster for the Heat.

Butler takes the offseason preparation and weekday practices past the realm of passion and into obsession (maybe insanity?). He is continuously demanding his teammates continually get better and expect his counterparts to care about the craft of basketball just as much as he does.

He will not coddle or use kid gloves for fellow professionals, but he does care immensely about winning. For better or worse, Butler is always striving for another level of success.

It is that drive that helped a scrappy product from Marquette find starting minutes on a veteran Chicago Bulls team amongst the likes of Taj Gibson, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, Butler’s push for greatness was a welcome addition to the veteran grit and grind already on the team.

But in the younger crowds that are the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76ers, feelings were hurt.

In both situations, Butler’s talent was still evident through the whirlpool of locker room chaos. The Timberwolves found the postseason for the first time in 13 seasons and the 76ers were one bad bounce from heading to the Eastern Conference Finals. In both cases, the contribution from Butler was crucial. In Minnesota, he provided nearly all of the team’s defense, averaging 2.7 steals per 100 possessions and a 0.1 defensive boxscore plus/minus (for comparison, Andrew Wiggins posted a -1.4 that season). In Philly, he was the best player in the postseason, averaging 19.4 points, 6.1 boards, 5.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 45% shooting.

However, locker room troubles followed him into both organizations, eventually leading to his departure.

Now, in Miami, he is yet again surrounded by various levels of youth. From the freshly minted Tyler Herro to the still-developing Justise Winslow, and everything in between.

Already, you have the immediate changes brought in by the Butler experience, starting with pre-practice workouts at 3:30 a.m. It’s evident the younger players have responded by picking up the challenge and heading in early. Butler has also been vocal about the attitude he is looking for the team to capture, saying he wants other teams to dislike his new squad.

Butler is excellent, and a team that adopts his work ethic, attitude and grit, can also be excellent. But everyone must buy-in from the start, or Butler will lose the locker room. The first month of the season will prove essential to the young Heat: Will they buy-in and become the smerking scourge of the Eastern Conference? Or do they turn on Butler after a few bad losses, like a lousy transplant?

Honestly, only time can tell, but the team seems to be trending the right way headed into the season.