Four months ago, Rasual Butler was an afterthought. He was one of the Washington Wizards’ six training camp invites vying for the 15th and final spot on the opening roster — an unlikely outcome because the Wizards desired roster flexibility going into the season.
But after an impressive preseason and a fractured wrist suffered by Bradley Beal, Butler made the team. Within six regular season games he was a force off the bench. Now he is an essential piece for the 24-11 Wizards, one who rendered second-year swingman Glen Rice Jr. expendable and has cemented a role with the team for the remainder of the season. Following the decision to waive Rice on Wednesday, Butler’s contract — a nonguaranteed one-year pact for the veteran’s minimum of $1.4 million — will become guaranteed for the remainder of the season on Saturday. It is the next step in a stunning resurgence.
“Obviously you’re excited about it, you’re pleased with it,” said Butler, 35. “You work hard to accomplish your goal, first making the team and then working to become one of the parts that contributes to the success of the team. So to be in this position now, it feels good. The work that you put in, it means something. When you work hard and you get results from it, that’s a gratifying feeling.”
The development, though a no-brainer now, is stunning when placed in context of Butler’s career trajectory. A second-round pick in 2002, Butler was out of the NBA for the entire 2012-13 season. He spent the next July playing with rookies in the NBA summer league and last season as a rarely used reserve for the Indiana Pacers. Washington is his seventh organization over 13 seasons.
But given a shot with the Wizards, the 6-foot-7 Butler jumped out to a blistering start to the season. He was nearly automatic from three-point range and helped buoy Washington as it navigated the season’s first nine games without Beal. He has cooled off — shooting 34.7 percent from the field including 43.3 percent behind the arc in his last nine games after shooting 54.2 percent overall and 51.3 percent on three-pointers in his previous 21 — but has earned Coach Randy Wittman’s trust and remains the Wizards’ first player off the bench.
“Honestly, once the season starts and you get into the rotation, you kind of lose sight of that because you’re just really focusing on being prepared for the next game, making sure that you’re doing everything possible to be able to help your team,” said Butler, who is averaging 10.2 points in 22.6 minutes per game. “And with the season going the way it’s been going, you know about it, it’s in the back of your head, but it’s something you try not to think about too much because you have people depending on you to get better every day.”
One of the Butler’s previous six NBA employers was the Chicago Bulls, whom the Wizards host Friday night in a Eastern Conference showdown at Verizon Center. He played just six games with the Bulls, but Chicago Coach Tom Thibodeau said Butler left an impression in his brief time.
“I think it’s the perfect fit for him and he’s a great pro,” Thibodeau said after Bulls shoot-around Friday morning. “He’s a guy who plays year-round and stays in great shape. And I think when you look at what John [Wall] does and you look at what Andre Miller does, he’s the perfect fit because he creates space and his career says how well he can shoot the three. But to be doing it at this stage of his career is a real credit to him. But we always felt strongly about his professionalism, his attitude, how much he loved he game. And the shooting part, that’s never going to go away.”
MORE NATIONAL EXPOSURE
There was a time, in the very recent past, when Washington’s national presence was nonexistent. That has changed and continues to change plenty this season.
The NBA announced Friday that the Wizards’ matchup against the San Antonio Spurs in the District on Tuesday will be televised nationally on NBA TV. Washington is now scheduled to play on national television three times in the next week — meetings with the Bulls on Friday and Wednesday will be aired on ESPN — and 11 times total, barring changes, the rest of the season.