After short Bull run, Strus is thriving in Miami with Butler's guidance

MILWAUKEE - When basketball is over for Jimmy Butler, he's well-suited for a second career as a lecturer at Marquette.

At the end of Tuesday's Miami Heat practice at Fiserv Forum, Butler spent at least five minutes telling teammate Max Strus what to do on a particular play - where to go, why it makes sense, how to affect the defender, etc.

Strus, a Hickory Hills native and Stagg High School grad, grew up cheering for Butler.

"For sure, I've got a Bulls Jimmy Butler jersey back at home," Strus said when the lesson was over. "I told him that too. Definitely was a big fan. So it's cool to come full circle and be a teammate and friend now and try to help him win a championship."

Strus was in Milwaukee because he scored 31 points to help Miami beat the Bulls in the final play-in game last Friday. After pulling off an upset win over the top-seeded Bucks, the Heat will play Game 2 of this first-round playoff series on Wednesday.

NBA life could have been very different for Strus. After a college career that took him from Division 2 Lewis to DePaul in the Big East, he joined the Bulls as a two-way player in 2019. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL while playing in the G-League Showcase that December.

The following spring, the Bulls made the transition from Gar Forman and Jim Boylan to Arturas Karnisovas and Billy Donovan. So while Strus recovered from knee surgery, his status with the Bulls was unclear.

"I don't think anybody was really familiar with me," Strus said. "I was in the gym the whole summer working out with them, playing pickup and doing workouts and obviously they didn't think I was good enough. So I didn't get the chance to stick around. I'm happy with how it worked out because I'm here now."

Strus said the Bulls offered him an Exhibit 10 contract, which is basically an invite to training camp, along with directions to Hoffman Estates for the G-League season.

"There were no (Bulls) roster spots available," Strus said. "The two-ways were taken up (Devon Dotson and Adam Mokoka) and every roster spot was taken up, so there was really no chance to get on the roster. The Heat had a two-way open, so that just made more sense."

And there's no guarantee Strus would have reached the same level of success with the Bulls. Miami has a strong reputation for player development, an area where the Bulls have struggled since Butler went from the No. 30 overall pick to an all-star under coach Tom Thibodeau.

"I just think it's their commitment to making guys better," Strus said of the Heat's player development. "They want to see you succeed more than you do. So they're willing to put in the time. The coaches aren't afraid to come in the gym and put the hours in.

"No matter where you are on the roster - two-way, best player on the team - they're going to be there and try to help you get better. So I think that's been the biggest thing that I've noticed. Being in other organizations, when you're on a two-way sometimes, they don't even know your name."

For the record, Strus was briefly a Boston Celtics two-way player before joining the Bulls.

This season, the 6-foot-5 forward averaged a career-best 11.5 points. With teammate Tyler Herro sidelined by a broken finger, Strus can count on a significant role in the Milwaukee series. He logged 38 minutes in Game 1 and helped the Heat reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last year.

Even though they're from rivals DePaul and Marquette, Strus has enjoyed the partnership with Butler, his fellow former Bull.

"We just like playing with each other," Strus said. "He's an unbelievable IQ player and I've learned so much from him. He's going to do whatever it takes to win and he doesn't care what people think about that.

"He wants to win, whatever it is. Just walking to the bus, he wants to beat you there. That's just who he is."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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Miami Heat's Jimmy Butler (22), Max Strus (31) and Bam Adebayo (13) celebrate during the second half of Game 6 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Philadelphia. Associated Press
Max Strus was a two-way player in the Bulls' organization, logging most of his time with the Windy City G League team in Hoffman Estates. Courtesy of the Windy City Bulls
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