PHOENIX — Caron Butler played the part of the savvy 11-year veteran to perfection Thursday at his introductory press conference.
The new Phoenix Suns small forward, who was officially acquired in a three-team trade with the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, wore the right clothes (orange shirt and orange tie), said the right things and smiled politely when grilled about his latest career move.
But for a former All-Star and NBA champion, being asked to move from a 56-win team with title aspirations to one in total rebuild mode is not exactly an easy pill to swallow.
Yet while thoughts of a mid-season trade or a chance to sign with a contending team next summer might have swirled through his mind, Butler stayed on point with his message: the goal is to help change the culture in Phoenix.
“It’s about winning,” Butler said. “We’re going to bring a winning culture to this organization. I’m really excited about this. I’m excited about the challenge ahead of us.”
Maybe it was just his way of making a good first impression or the product of not having played a single regular season game with the Suns yet, but Butler didn’t talk as if he was a short-term lineup filler or the throw-in to a trade that needed his $8 million expiring contract to make the transaction possible.
Instead, he spoke as if he’s been down this road before, because in fact, he has.
The Caron Butler most people think of these days is the talented, yet injury-prone wing that has had the luxury of playing with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Chauncey Billups, Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd in recent years.
But it wasn’t always that way for the 33-year-old.
Before being shipped to the Dallas Mavericks in the middle of the 2010-11 season, he and Antawn Jamison were the anchors of a Washington Wizards team that went from being a perennial playoff participant to the laughing stock in the Eastern Conference in the blink of an eye.
In fact, the best offensive campaign of his career (20.8 points per game) came back in 2008-09, when the Wizards finished 19-63 — the last time he finished a season on a losing team.
Flash forward five years, and once again he’s a central figure in the midst of a slow-moving makeover. More than likely he won’t be around long enough to see it through, but this challenge presents something the last one did not: a chance to mentor a handful of recent first-round picks (Alex Len, Archie Goodwin, Eric Bledsoe, Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris) still looking to make a name for themselves in the league.
At the top of that list is his former Clipper teammate, Bledsoe.
“Talking to Eric [Bledsoe], he’s really excited about this opportunity and I’m excited for him as well,” said Butler, who averaged 10.4 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in 2012-13. “Being a big brother for him in this case, I’m going to support him.”
While guiding Bledsoe will undoubtedly be a major focus for him in 2013-14, Butler said he’s not going to change his approach to adapt to a new environment. The way he views it, the lessons he learned early on in his career from notable veterans like Brian Grant, Eddie Jones and LaPhonso Ellis have already shaped him into the type of leader Ryan McDonough and Co. need moving forward.
“I’m just going to continue to do what I always have been doing throughout my career: setting an example on and off the court, arriving to practice early and leaving late, talking to guys about basketball, about life, about family, everything,” said Butler. “You know it’s about keeping the guys dedicated and disciplined throughout the whole process.
“Just being a big brother and shoulder they can lean on, it’s kind of being an extension of the coach in the locker room; a guy guys can come to and vent out to and help with the process and transition of changing this thing to a winning culture.”
Spoken like a true veteran who understands his role, for now at least.
While Butler equipped himself rather nicely during his first press conference in the Valley, it was clear that the happiest person inside the Al McCoy Media Center Thursday was Ryan McDonough.
Yes, the first-year general manager landed a big fish in 23-year-old Eric Bledsoe, but in his eyes, Caron Butler was also an important piece in the deal – not just because of his expiring contract.
“With Caron [Butler], I’ve been watching him play for a long time,” McDonough said. “Growing up in New England, I went to a bunch of UConn games. I always admired his toughness and professionalism.
“When I was with the Celtics and we had our good runs in the playoffs, he was a guy were constantly trying to acquire. He made the All-Star team a few times, is a great example for the young players on how to be a pro, how to conduct yourself and how to work. We’re thrilled to have him.”
Asked how it made him feel to know McDonough’s interest dates back several years, Butler offered up a light-hearted response.
“It was rather flattering to know that I had a guy who had a man crush on me for so many years,” said Butler. “Once I found that out, I was extremely excited. Just coming here, he told me he’s been following me for years, the expectations and what he expects out of me, I was definitely ready for that challenge.”