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The Bulls, Nets, and Spurs were among Butler's suitors when the lockout ended, but it was the upstart Clippers that intrigued him most of all. In San Antonio with the small forward talking courtside after practice prior to Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, he was bombarded with questions from the local media about why he chose Los Angeles over the Alamo City, a place that's hosted four championship parades since 1999.
"As a free agent I was extremely close to coming here [to San Antonio]," he said. "It was a great situation for me in L.A., even before the Chris Paul situation. It was great for me to get a lot of playing time and for me to be back out there playing." Butler indicated the decision was partly about feeling comfortable with his role in the Clippers' system, but there was another intriguing factor.
"I was eager to be a part of that transition of making the Clippers a respectable organization," he said.
The 32-year-old's role in making the Clippers respectable was evident in his grit, his intangibles, and his toughness. He played through a hyper-extended knee in a January game against the Mavericks. He overcame an extended shooting slump in March to lead the Clippers with 28 points in arguably one of the biggest regular-season games in team history against the intra-city rival Lakers.
And, of course, he made a remarkable return after missing just one postseason game with a fractured fifth metacarpal in his left hand. He sustained the injury in Game 1 against Memphis, sat out Game 2, and subsequently started the final nine games of the playoffs.
Del Negro may have been right. Butler defended Rudy Gay, holding the Grizzlies' premier scorer to 38.3% shooting in the last five games of the seven-game series, and scored 14 points in a 101-97 overtime win in Game 4.
Butler's postseason performance was the most lasting memory of his 2011-12 season. However, his 63-game regular season was an ocean of ebbs and floods. He was most productive starting alongside Chauncey Billups, who went down with a torn left Achilles tendon on February 6.
Billups' injury coincided with nagging health problems for Butler, including an ailing back, and a grueling schedule. The Clippers played 20 games in 31 days in March and Butler sat just once during the stretch, an outing at Oklahoma City in the middle of a back-to-back-to-back. Not coincidentally, Butler's output was most negatively impacted in March (See box).
According to Severns, Butler's offseason will be primarily a "physical thing." Severns said the team will focus on helping their small forward improve his body and conditioning.
"We'd be really pleased if he came in at 215-217 [pounds]," Severns said. "That'd mean he lost about 15-20 pounds. He needs to get more explosive, slashing, and finishing at the rim. All of the plays he couldn't necessarily make last season because his knee wasn't necessarily where it needed to be."
Two things will naturally help: going back to a six-month, 82-game regular season with a full training camp and getting another year removed from the ruptured patellar tendon he suffered in January 2011.
While Butler insisted his knee was healthy as far back as training camp, it's not uncommon for players to need an intermittent amount of time to get fully comfortable. Playing with a lighter frame, as Severns indicated, could help.
"He's been biking in Wisconsin," Severns said. "[Butler] says the hand is fine. It's mainly about getting his knee strength back."
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