Caron Butler reflects on chaotic Wizards season

"I think that was a long time coming," Caron Butler, right, said of blowing up the Wizards via trades. (Tim Sharp/associated Press)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This was a season in which Caron Butler had to accept some abrupt endings, the latest coming when the Dallas Mavericks, a team purportedly built for a championship run, became the first No. 2 seed to lose a seven-game series in the first round. But the first one came when his tenure with the Washington Wizards came to an end after 4 1/2 years with the team.

Butler struggled to find a home in the NBA early in his career, as he was traded twice in his first three seasons. But he quickly attached himself to Washington, purchasing a home in Virginia even before President Ernie Grunfeld handed him a five-year, $50 million contract extension in October 2005.

He made two all-star teams and three playoff appearances in his time with the Wizards. But he realized that change was bound to come on Jan. 6 in Cleveland, when NBA Commissioner David Stern suspended Gilbert Arenas indefinitely after he brought guns into the Wizards' locker room -- which effectively ended any chance of turning around an already miserable campaign.

"I knew it was over that day," Butler said recently, pausing to reflect on the Wizards' lost season while his primary focus was attempting to help the Mavericks defeat the San Antonio Spurs.

Six weeks after that game in Cleveland, Butler was dealt to Dallas in a trade that marked the end of the franchise's investment in the all-star trio of Arenas, Butler and Antawn Jamison, who was shipped to Cleveland four days later.

Butler didn't want to leave but said he felt that there was nothing that he could've done to change the outcome.

"I think that was a long time coming," he said. "I just think it was going to eventually happen. It was a team where the expectations were severely high and we obviously underachieved. It just didn't work out right. It's nobody's fault."

His final few months with the Wizards were unremarkable for Butler, as he had a public spat with Arenas, who claimed that he wasn't on the same page as the rest of his teammates. He stubbornly failed to adjust to Coach Flip Saunders's point guard-centered offense after thriving under Eddie Jordan's Princeton offense, which requires more playmaking from forwards.

And he appeared to sulk after failing to receive a contract extension before the season began.

With Butler's contract set to expire after the 2010-11 season, Grunfeld didn't want to tie up more money in a group that lost three first-round series against the Cavaliers, especially after committing about $161 million in contracts to Arenas and Jamison in the summer or 2008.

"I wasn't upset about it, but I worked my tail off the last couple of years when Gilbert was injured," Butler said of the extension. "Obviously, he's the cornerstone and the franchise guy for that organization, you know, without a doubt. He'll go down as one of the best players to ever play the game if he comes back [healthy]. But when he was out, you've got to give credit where credit was due. I was at the helm, helping lead that ballclub to the playoffs and things of that nature. I obviously got injured and wasn't able to make the push at the butt end of the seasons. But that was me and Antawn, being the leaders and controlling the atmosphere and everything around there. You should be compensated and rewarded. I understand it's a business, you put it aside and get prepared for the season but it was tough. You expect certain things."

Butler was also expecting to have a more prominent role in the offense, which led to him breaking off and freestyling from time to time. He famously went against a play Saunders called for Randy Foye and missed a game-winning attempt against Dallas on Jan. 26. According to team insiders, he sometimes complained about not getting enough shots.

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