The Bitter and the Sweet
Friday, February 2, 2007
When Caron Butler was drafted with the 10th pick of the 2002 draft by the Miami Heat, the former University of Connecticut star had every reason to believe that regular appearances in the NBA all-star game were in his future.
It took recovery from a knee injury, two trades and 4 1/2 seasons for it to happen, but the Washington Wizards forward finally realized one of his dreams when he was selected as a reserve for the Eastern Conference all-star team yesterday.
The reserves were announced last night, but Butler learned of his selection before Wednesday night's game at Toronto. Teammate Gilbert Arenas will be in the starting lineup for the Feb. 18 game in Las Vegas, and Coach Eddie Jordan and his staff, who have guided the Wizards to the best record in the conference, will lead the East squad.
"It's exciting because it's one of those things where you have your fingers crossed hoping it's going to happen but you don't want to get your hopes up just in case," said Butler, who is averaging career highs in several categories including scoring (20.6 points per game), rebounding (eight per game), assists (3.9 per game) and shooting percentage (47.8). "It's really special to be a part of that elite group. It's like 'Cheers.' You want to go where everyone knows your name, where you are recognized as a star. It's a great feeling."
The reserves were selected by Eastern Conference coaches. The other reserves are New Jersey's Vince Carter and Jason Kidd, Detroit's Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups, Indiana's Jermaine O'Neal and Orlando's Dwight Howard.
Wizards forward Antawn Jamison, who was an all-star reserve in 2004-2005, made a late push to be considered for this season's event, but is expected to miss three to six weeks with a sprained left knee and would not have been able to play.
The reserves for the Western Conference are Dallas's Dirk Nowitzki, Denver's Allen Iverson, Utah's Carlos Boozer, San Antonio's Tony Parker and Phoenix's Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Shawn Marion.
Butler's path to the league's marquee regular season event has included several setbacks. After leading all rookies in scoring (15.4 points per game) with the Heat during the 2002-03 season, his second season was cut short by a knee injury.
Butler missed only 14 games that season, but the injury kept him from playing his best and the Heat traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers the following summer in the deal that brought Shaquille O'Neal to Miami.
After one solid but unspectacular season with the Lakers, where he often was a third option after Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom on a team that missed the playoffs, Butler was traded to Washington for Kwame Brown.
Last season, Butler didn't start until the 25th game, and it took awhile for him to pick up the nuances of Jordan's offense, but once his game meshed with Arenas's and Jamison's, the Wizards took off.
The team went 33-20 with Butler as a starter -- the Wizards lost five straight late in the season when he was out with a sprained thumb -- and made it to the playoffs for the second straight season.
After a summer during which he hired a nutritionist, shed 10 pounds and improved his ball-handling and shooting skills, Butler came to camp determined to have a breakout season.
After he posted nine games with at least 10 points and 10 rebounds all of last season, Butler has done it 18 times this season and his consistent play at both ends of the court is a major reason the Wizards have the best record (27-18) in the Eastern Conference.
Highlights from Butler's first half included a career-high 34-point effort in a win at Phoenix on Dec. 22; a 29-point, 13-rebound game in a loss at Milwaukee on Dec. 30; a game-winning dunk at the buzzer to beat the Knicks on Jan. 17; and several spectacular dunks, including one on Houston's 7-foot-6 Yao Ming.
"I always had the confidence that I was an elite player in this league," Butler said. "If I hadn't been sidetracked by an injury early on, who knows what would have happened? Maybe I would've made it sooner but then again, I look at the trade from Miami to Los Angeles as a blessing because without that, I wouldn't be here. This is a perfect fit for me"
Butler is Washington's third all-star in the last three seasons. Arenas and Jamison made the team as reserves in 2004-2005, and Arenas was the team's lone representative last season.
Butler also is the third member of his draft class to make an all-star team, joining Yao and Stoudemire. Like many NBA players, Butler was planning to be in Las Vegas for All-Star Weekend anyway, but his selection forced him to alter his original travel plans.
"I had a lot of rooms already reserved so I'm going to try and get as much family as I can out there," Butler said. "I want as many people to enjoy this as possible. If I could, I'd bring the whole city of Washington out there."