An hour or so after Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins were introduced during a news conference at MCI Center yesterday, Butler slipped on a crisp, white Wizards home uniform for the first time. Butler, who will wear No. 3, beamed like a little kid who just found out he made the local park and recreation league team as he proudly posed for his fiancee, Andriea.
"I like how this looks on me," Butler said, running his hands over the new uniform. "I think I can get used to this."
The Wizards are already excited about the prospect of adding Butler and Atkins to a revamped back court that includes free agent signee Antonio Daniels, all-star point guard Gilbert Arenas and third-year swingman Jarvis Hayes.
If the 6-foot-7, 217-pound Butler plays like team president Ernie Grunfeld thinks he will, the loss of Larry Hughes to Cleveland won't disrupt the momentum created by last season's run to the second round of the playoffs. Butler, selected 10th overall in the 2002 draft by Miami, was the key factor in Grunfeld's decision to trade forward Kwame Brown to the Lakers.
Several teams contacted Grunfeld and expressed interest in Brown, but Grunfeld homed in on Butler, who averaged a career-high 15.5 points per game last season but really emerged down the stretch when an injury to Lamar Odom created a more expanded role for him in Los Angeles's offense. In the final 15 games, Butler averaged 21.9 points while alternating between shooting guard and small forward.
Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan likes the way Butler runs the floor and slashes to the basket. Butler can also post up smaller defenders, something Arenas, Hughes, Hayes and other guards did not do much of last season.
"The number one thing I like about Caron is that he's a hard-nosed, tough basketball player," said Grunfeld, who has followed Butler's career since he was a high school player in Racine, Wis. "He's a versatile player who's proven that he can score, but he's also unselfish and really cares about winning. Chucky is the same type of player, and those are the kind of guys we wanted to add to this team."
Butler is hoping to create a home for himself in the NBA. After averaging 15.4 points in his first season with Miami, he finished third behind winner Amare Stoudemire and Yao Ming in the rookie of the year balloting. His second season was cut short by a knee injury, and then last summer, he was traded to the Lakers in the blockbuster deal that sent Shaquille O'Neal to the Heat.
After a solid season with Los Angeles, Butler again found himself on the trading block, this time because the Lakers were loaded with small forwards and were looking to land a young post player at a relatively cheap price.
Initially stung by the news that he was being traded again, Butler said he has warmed to the idea of moving back across the country.
"Mr. Grunfeld and Jordan have accepted us with open arms," Butler said. "I've had phone calls, and I've felt like was a lottery pick all over again so I feel great. We're very happy, and I appreciate this."
Butler, who is entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $2.46 million this season, made it clear he's hoping to be in a Wizards uniform for a while.
"This is an opportunity right here," Butler said. "You pray for situations like this. To be put in a situation where you are with a [general manager] who has followed you since high school and knows the ins and outs of your game. Not only that, but he knows about your personality. This is a great situation for me and my family and I'm going to embrace it."
In Atkins, the Wizards are getting a feisty veteran point guard who averaged a career-high 13.6 points last season while shooting 38.7 percent. Atkins, who is entering the final year of his contract, was undrafted out of South Florida and has played for Orlando, Detroit, Boston and Los Angeles during his six-year NBA career. He should be a reliable backup to Arenas, who averaged 40.9 minutes per game last season, third most in the NBA.
"I've always said that it's about talent, toughness, experience and character in this league," Jordan said. "We've added two other players, and Antonio Daniels, who give us all of those qualities. The heart is bigger than the man sometimes, and that's what we have. We have competitive players. Guys who are experienced, guys who are talented. We think that is going to take us to another level."