Posted Feb 16 2010 10:22AM
Soon enough, the pro basketball public will finally meet Caron Butler. You know him, but unless you're a League Pass junkie, you don't really know him. This guy is better than you think and you're about to find out because his trade to Dallas just made him a Player of Consequence.
Most of you know Butler's resume. He led UConn to the Elite Eight in 2002, was Miami's lottery pick a few months later and an All-Rookie First Team member. You may remember him, Lamar Odom, rookie Dwyane Wade and a young Heat squad advancing to the Eastern Conference semis in 2004. I'm sure you didn't forget, too, that he was part of the Shaq-to-Miami trade that summer, was traded to the Wizards in 2005 and was an All-Star in 2007 and 2008.
Yeah, you know him.
Good player, right? Nah, man ... a really good player. He's better than the best player on about half of the teams in the league, something you'll see that now that he's running with the Mavs.
For the past five seasons, he's played in the shadow of Gilbert Arenas (due mostly to Gil's blogging, Gil's game-winners, his injuries or this season's fiasco) for a team that went from emerging to okay to horrendous to tragic. The last three seasons (including this one), Butler has averaged about 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals. But, let's be candid: Who cares? The Wiz were first-round outs in '07 and '08 and won 19 games last season. In the grand scheme of things, Butler didn't matter because Washington didn't.
As good as Butler was (I always thought that, because of his blend of skill, talent and toughness, the Wizards would have been better off with Caron -- not Gil -- as That Dude), his play had no significant bearing because his squad rarely mattered. Butler was not a Player of Consequence. That's all about to change. He's out of the Eastern Conference cellar, about to begin balling with the Mavs -- a team of consequence. That means those tough buckets he scores, that tough, physical defense he plays and his steely demeanor matter now. His nickname is Tough Juice, people.
I'm real big on the Player of Consequence (PQ) thing. Ask me about Michael Redd's five-year scoring spree and I'll shrug my shoulders. Why? Because Milwaukee averaged about 30-35 wins each season. Kevin Martin? Meh. Monta Ellis is dropping 26 ppg this season, but if you took the nearly 109,000 people at the All-Star Game and showed them a photo of Ellis one of Denver's J.R. Smith, more of them would recognize Smith. Why? Because Smith plays ball in the playoffs every season. Playing for a real winner changes everything. For Butler, it's going to increase his national exposure. For some, it totally changes how people think about you as a player.
Take Jamal Crawford, a prime PQ example. Last month he dropped a team-high 28 points in a tough win over the Hawks' nemesis: Boston. Atlanta was +20 while Crawford was on the floor. Paul Pierce had 35 points, but Crawford dominated the game. Afterward he talked about how he's having the most fun of his career by far. What's changed about his game this year?
"Nothing, really," Crawford said. "I'm doing the same stuff that, before, people were saying was the reason why my teams were losing."
He admitted that he's "a little smarter" this season, but you and I both know the perception has changed because Crawford changed jerseys.
Crawford went from being somewhat of a whipping-boy/pariah with the Bulls, Knicks and Warriors to getting deserved All-Star buzz. If you tried to make a case that, thus far, he's been one of the five most valuable players of the season, I wouldn't argue too much. When they show up, the Atlanta crowd at Philips Arena is in absolute love with this dude. He hits game-winners, he goes on scoring streaks that aren't just prolific, but dramatic (high-arching fadeaway-treys, killer-crossover and-1s, coast-to-coast momentum-changers). For most fans, he's a revelation. We just never respected his game.
(Quick story: Last spring, I wrote this column, ranking who I'd pick to take a potential game-winner. Crawford stumbled across it and sent me a good-natured email asking how it was possible for him to be left off, seeing as how he'd hit eight game-winners in the past four seasons. I responded, in jest: "You know what, you would have made the list, but it only included PLAYOFF teams.")
Your appreciation of Butler will inflate the same way we now have a heightened appreciation of Crawford and maybe more so. Josh Howard (the principal Mav in the seven-player Mavs/Wiz deal) tried to be the second star to Dirk Nowitzki, but that role was a little too far above his head. It's a perfect fit for Butler. Provided the acclimation process is relatively smooth (and Jason Kidd will make sure of that), it won't take long before the Mavs start picking up wins because Butler took over for Dirk as the best player on the court. Don't be surprised if, in a month, reporters start asking coach Rick Carlisle, "Did you know Caron was this good?"
It'll be May, when Butler is at the podium, answering questions after slapping up a 25-8-5 night in a playoff win. That's when fans everywhere will turn to each other, shaking their heads and say, "Man ... I didn't know he was this good."
Yeah he was.
It's just that he matters now. He's a PQ.
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