Caron Butler on John Wall: ‘I love the excitement that he’s bringing back to the District’

December 6, 2013

I still got some more basketball in me. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Milwaukee Bucks always seemed like the last place that Caron Butler would wind up, considering the bad luck that always beset him at Bradley Center.

His first all-star season with the Wizards came to a premature end in April 2007 when he hustled for a blocked shot and broke his right hand slapping the backboard. He was unable to play in his second all-star game the next season when he returned home a few weeks before and suffered a torn labrum in his left hip. And he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and missed the Dallas Mavericks’ run to the 2011 NBA title.

After he was traded to the Bucks last summer, the Racine, Wis., native was excited about having the chance to play for the team that he grew up watching and in front of his friends and family. But he couldn’t ignore how poorly his visits home would often end.

“It was something that I thought about, but I let it remove out of my head quickly, because I got 40-something home games here,” Butler said with a laugh during a recent telephone interview. “I can’t worry about that no more.”

On his fourth team since the Wizards began their rebuilding efforts by trading him to Dallas in January 2010, Butler is in an unusual position – for the first time, he is actually looking up at his former team in the standings. The Wizards (9-9) haven’t been .500 in December since Butler was part of an all-star trio with Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.

Butler did not travel with the Bucks for Friday’s visit to Washington as he deals with a swollen left knee that recently was drained. He hasn’t played since scoring five points in 20 minutes off the bench on Nov. 27 in the Bucks’ 100-92 home loss to the Wizards. The loss was Milwaukee’s 10th straight defeat during an NBA-worst 11-game losing skid.

But after the game, Butler took some time to pull aside John Wall to offer some words of encouragement.

“I told him I love what he’s doing, and I’m proud of him,” said Butler, who still keeps his residence in Virginia. “I don’t know him like that, but I told him I always got an attachment with organization. I’m a big fan of the game of basketball and I love the way he’s playing. I love the excitement that he’s bringing back to the District, because it’s well needed. I know Abe Pollin in heaven smiling on that one. He’s playing at an extremely high level. He’s definitely an all-star this year. I thought Bradley [Beal] was on pace of being one as well. He’s definitely playing great.”

The Bucks (3-15) have the worst record in the league, putting Butler back in a similar spot as 2008-09, the season that marked an end of Eddie Jordan’s tenure in Washington and snapped a string of four straight playoff appearances for the franchise. Milwaukee has a very different roster from the team that finished eighth in the Eastern Conference last season after an active summer in which they lost Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick. The new pieces have yet to come together, but Butler hasn’t given up on the season.

“As bad as we started, and losing [11] in a row, I think the Wizards are the third seed and they’re 9-9, they’re .500. I mean, everything is still in striking distance,” Buttler said. “It’s the Eastern Conference. You win four in a row, you’re the seventh seed or something. So you just keep the guys encouraged, that’s what I’m here for. Just remain positive.

“Look at the times that we’ve been through in Washington, from the Gilbert situation, to losing, to coaching changes, any and everything that has happened in the NBA that could possibly happen to a player, I’ve been through it. So I can share my experience with young fellas and just try to get through it mentally, continue to talk to them and shed light on them.”

Butler hasn’t missed the playoffs since leaving Washington. He has played with the Los Angeles Clippers the past two years but got traded last July to Phoenix, along with Eric Bledsoe, in deal for Jared Dudley. Less than two months later, Butler was shipped to Milwaukee.

“To get removed from that situation was tough, because in the later years, you know I feel like you plan for the prize every year, with a realistic chance of winning it,” Butler said. “When I got traded here, it was shocking, one, because never in a million years did I think I would be playing for the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that I grew up watching my whole life and two, playing on this platform, in front of my family and loved ones, home, that was kind of ironic, but it was a dream come true for me. It was special.”

Being back home gives Butler the chance to play a more hands-on role in his charitable activities and he also provides about 50 tickets per game for area middle school and high school students. He also has a suite for about 50 family members and friends.

“I always been a guy that never takes anything for granted,” said Butler, who is averaging 13.2 points for the Bucks. “People watch us as a form of entertainment to take their mind off things. So I try to keep things in perspective and try not to be on a high horse about what I’m doing and how I’m living, so I always stay humble with the situation. I get extremely emotional to this day, and I’m 33. Whenever I step on that stage, put that uniform on, see my kids and my wife, I just know I’m extremely blessed.”

Though he is currently being used in a reserve role, Butler has had his moments this season. He made four three-pointers and scored a season-high 38 points in an overtime loss in Philadelphia. He also made a clutch three-pointer in Milwaukee’s 105-98 victory over Boston on Nov. 1. That shot gained notoriety when Butler was fined $15,000 for what the league deemed an “obscene gesture.” Butler celebrated the basket by doing a dance made popular by Wizards assistant Sam Cassell and reminded fans at TD Garden that he has, um, guts.

“It was funny because I talked to the league about it,” Butler said. “It takes the emotion out of the game. It kind of makes you robotic. You don’t want to be disrespectful. If I was, I’m sorry. At the time, it’s just, you put your time in at the gym, you make a huge shot and you want to display your emotion or how you’re feeling at the time. Some people pound their chest. Some people do the Cassell thing, whatever the case may be. It was a big shot. I took it in stride.”

Butler hopes to get back on the court in a week or so, but he isn’t sure when he’ll return. In the last year of deal that will pay him $8 million this season, Butler hasn’t thought about what will be his next move.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “I still want to play. We’ll see what happens. You have a lot of decisions at the end of the day, you got to ask yourself: Is it about winning a championship? Is it about being happy and teaching, being an extension of the coaching staff, playing and being productive? I got a lot of basketball in me, so I still want to play the game of basketball.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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Michael Lee | December 6, 2013