By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 10, 2009
TORONTO, April 9 -- Caron Butler and LeBron James are the only players in the NBA averaging at least 20 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists this season. But Butler won't place that feather in the black, curly "W," Washington Nationals cap he regularly adjusted while discussing what could go down as the worst season in Wizards franchise history.
Butler had taken so much for granted in his first three years in Washington -- the playoffs, the all-star appearances -- that this season made him more appreciative of "cherishable" moments. Those moments include the night against Indiana when he overcame the flu to score the Wizards' final 15 points, including a buzzer-beating jumper as he slid backward into the front row. And the night against Cleveland when he, Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood shared the court for the only time this season and snapped the Cavaliers' 13-game win streak.
"They're right up there," Butler said. "But never in my wildest dreams could you have told me that we would be 18 and ."
After playing Toronto at Air Canada Centre Friday night, the Wizards have two more games remaining, but Butler would rather look ahead to next season than reflect on this one. He hasn't kept track of how many wins the Wizards need to avoid the ignominy of having the franchise's worst record (it's two wins). And, while the Wizards will miss the playoffs for the first time in five years, Butler said he plans to attend postseason games in Miami and Cleveland "just to stay in the mix and keep that feeling, mentally."
Butler also said he will focus on strengthening his body and becoming more durable after missing at least 15 games for the third consecutive season. He plans to train with James and former teammates Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant this summer.
"I know, personally, I will be in the best shape of my life, the best condition of my life," Butler said. "Physically, mentally, I will be better than ever. I will have the best year of my career next year. I'm putting that on paper. I will have the best year of my career, on the court and off the court. I will be seriously ready.
"I think everybody is going to be hungry like that this summer," he said. "We don't have a lot of time to [play around]. This is our moment."
Butler hasn't advanced to the second round of the playoffs since his second year with the Miami Heat, and he said the Wizards need to start aiming higher. "Playoffs isn't enough," Butler said. "Everybody celebrates when the Wizards make the playoffs, but now the goals are much more higher. We're talking about competing for a championship."
How does he expect a team to go from 18 wins to a championship the next season?
"You saw Boston do it," he said.
But Boston added Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett after winning 24 games.
"We add a healthy Gilbert. You add a healthy Brendan, who's motivated, playing extremely well, and other guys that have that fire inside after all the pain we went through this year," Butler said.
Although his production is almost identical statistically to his second all-star campaign last season, Butler was unable to carry the Wizards in the absence of Arenas and Haywood. His desire to do too much offensively led to his forcing difficult shots and making risky passes. He's shooting 44.6 percent -- his lowest since coming to Washington in the summer of 2005 -- and ranks sixth in the league in turnovers with 3.1 per game.
He got an encouraging glimpse of life with Arenas and Haywood last week, which makes him optimistic about the future of the team -- to an extent. "Okay, we had everybody healthy and you saw we beat one of the best teams in the league," Butler said. "But at the same time, we still got to get better. We got to get everybody healthy and make a tweak here or there and see what happens."
Butler said he is "not playing for no lottery pick" but he believes that Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, the favorite to go No. 1 in the NBA draft, is the only player from the college ranks who can help the Wizards right away. "We're going to be left with a lot of decisions for the GM, because you have the options. Do you trade a pick? Do you package a player with a pick, all those types of things, and get a quality player? If you look at our window for opportunity, we have a four-year window right now. Guys are not getting no younger. Antawn is 32, I'm 29, Gilbert is 27. DeShawn [Stevenson] is 28. Brendan is approaching 30. The core guys are in the prime of their careers. Right now, we don't have time to have another developing year."
"That's where I stand," Butler said. "If it's not Blake Griffin or somebody that can make an immediate impact, then I would prefer having a veteran come in to help us. The time is now."