News Report: Jimmy Butler’s agent challenges former Miami Heat coach for questioning veteran’s impact on team….

The Miami Heat are navigating their first-round playoff matchup versus the Boston Celtics without Jimmy Butler, who sprained his MCL during the play-in tournament.

Without its leader, the team has done a somewhat impressive job against the No. 1-seeded Celtics, stealing Game 2 on the road behind its solid defense and efficient outside shooting.

It seems, though, that former Heat coach Stan Van Gundy is questioning whether Butler is that big of a difference maker for the squad, with the star’s agent, Bernard Lee, refuting that idea in a series of social media posts.

This isn’t the first time Lee has taken exception to unfavorable comments from Van Gundy about his client. He also clapped back at an assertion from Van Gundy a few years ago, when he put Butler in the same breath as the injury-prone Anthony Davis.

As Lee suggested in this go-around, Butler’s importance to the Heat cannot be overstated. With his play and leadership, the squad reached the Eastern Conference Finals in three of the last four playoffs and twice made it to the NBA Finals stage.

Maybe Van Gundy’s recent statement was based on the fact that Miami had a 13-9 record in the 2023-24 regular season when Butler sat out. In the games he appeared in, the team went 33-27, a slightly lower winning percentage.

Even so, the five-time All-NBA selection’s value is most evident in the postseason. Perhaps the strongest proof that he is essential to Miami came during its unlikely run to the championship round a year ago.

Entering the 2023 NBA Playoffs as the No. 8 seed, the Heat upset the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, thanks in large part to Butler outplaying Giannis Antetokounmpo. They went on to defeat the New York Knicks and Celtics in the following rounds before succumbing to the Denver Nuggets.

At the moment, Miami is trailing Boston 2-1 in the first round after the opponent put the clamps on the Heat in Game 3 and prevented them from getting hot from deep like they did in the previous meeting. Without Butler, the Heat’s offense got exposed on Saturday.

It remains to be seen if the star swingman will play again this season. It could ultimately depend on how long the Heat survive in the playoffs.

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