CARON BUTLER AS HAWKEYE

In part four of a five-part series comparing the Clippers starting five to the Avengers team of superheroes, the sharpshooting ability and toughness of small forward Caron Butler is compared to Hawkeye.

Caron Butler
Hawkeye does it with a bow, Caron Butler with a basketball, but both are sharpshooters.

Every group has an unsung hero—that person who is a vital member of the team but may not get all the attention or praise. For the Beatles, it was George Harrison; for the Ghostbusters, it was Winston Zeddemore; and, for the Avengers, it was Clint Barton (a.k.a. Hawkeye).

Barton often gets lost in the mix when you talk about the key members of the Avengers team. He doesn’t have the cool shield or suit. He doesn’t turn into an enormous green rage monster. And, he doesn’t have the flowing golden locks and giant hammer of a Norse god. Barton isn’t the flashiest Avenger, but his clutch shooting and unwavering toughness are what make him indispensible to his team.

By helping the Avengers defeat Loki and the Chitauri, Barton proved he could be the team’s silent assassin. The Clippers have a silent assassin of their own, who, like Barton, may not get all the attention, but who’s shooting skills and toughness are crucial components to the team’s success. That player is Caron Butler, and if you look at the comparisons between him and Barton, you’ll see why.

PLAYING WITH THE ENEMY

One of the main reasons Barton often gets overlooked is because of the fact that he wasn’t a primary member of the Avengers team to begin with. At the outset of the movie, Barton was put under Loki’s spell and worked as his personal lackey for the first two thirds of the film. For a brief time, Barton was an enemy of the Avengers, disrupting their every attempt to stop Loki and acting as a constant nuisance to them.

Like Barton, Butler had his own brief stint playing for “the enemy”. Back in 2004, Butler was part of a package that sent him—along with current Clippers teammate Lamar Odom—to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for Shaquille O’Neal. In his one season with the Lakers, Butler averaged 15.5 points per game before being traded to the Washington Wizards in the offseason, where he would play for four and a half years before joining the Dallas Mavericks midway through the 2009-2010 season. In his years with the Wizards and Mavericks, Butler’s teams acted as a nuisance to the Clippers, going 10-5 against them with Butler averaging 16.3 points.

Fortunately for both the Avengers and the Clippers, Barton and Butler eventually joined their respective teams. And, just as Barton came up big at the end of The Avengers when facing Loki and the Chitauri, Butler has come up big for the Clippers when they have faced one of their rivals, the Lakers. In his four games as a Clipper against the Lakers, Butler has shot 48% from 3-point range (11-for-23).

So far this season, Butler has proven to be a reliable shooting force outside for the Clippers. He currently leads the team in 3-point shooting percentage at 42.8%, and last month he put his shooting skills on full display. On November 26 against the New Orleans Hornets, Butler hit a career-high and franchise-record nine 3-pointers on 15 attempts, finishing the game with 33 points and becoming the first Clipper of the season to score at least 30 points. However, Butler’s ability to shoot the ball is only part of the reason why he’s so important to the Clippers.

TRUE GRIT

The similarities between Butler and Barton go well beyond the initial “sharpshooter” comparisons. What’s made these two indispensible to their teams is their overall toughness. Compared to some of the more well-known members of the Avengers, Barton was the only one without any actual superpowers. He relied solely on his physical skills and mental toughness to succeed. In the face of an alien invasion, Barton didn’t flinch or panic when a race of extraterrestrials began destroying New York City. Instead, he stood his ground and showed his true grit. When Captain America needed to run and rescue civilians trapped on the streets below, he asked Barton and fellow assassin Natasha Romanoff (a.k.a. Black Widow) if they could hold off the approaching Chitauri army. Barton calmly replied, “Captain, it would be my genuine pleasure.” 

Butler has shown his own toughness and grit throughout his NBA career. While with the Wizards, Butler earned the nickname “Tuff Juice” because of his competitive and aggressive style of play. Those traits were exactly why the Clippers signed Butler as a free agent in December 2011. Then-Clippers Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey said of the signing: "We thought Caron would be a great fit for us, from the perfect positional need, and from a character and leadership standpoint. That's what these young guys need.”

Last season, Butler proved his worth to the Clippers and again demonstrated his toughness in the team’s first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies. In Game 1, Butler fractured his left hand late in the third quarter when it got caught in Rudy Gay’s jersey. The official diagnosis had Butler out four to six weeks. But, after watching the Dallas Mavericks win it all in 2011 while he was sidelined with a ruptured right patellar tendon, Butler was determined to find his way back on the court and not be another spectator in the postseason. Chauncey Billups said of Butler’s determination to come back and play, “He’s risking something, but he’s willing to risk that for the team and that’s great.”  After sitting out Game 2, Butler fought through his injury and suited up for the Clippers in Game 3, an 87-86 victory that gave the Clippers a 2-1 series lead. In Game 4, Butler scored 14 points and helped the Clippers beat the Grizzlies in overtime. The team would eventually go on to win the series in seven games, giving the Clippers their first postseason series win in six years. Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said of Butler’s decision to play with a fractured hand, “The guy is tough. He’s a battler.”  Heroes always are.

While Clint Barton may not be the flashiest Avenger, it can be argued that he is perhaps the toughest. Caron Butler has demonstrated the same type of grit throughout his NBA career. Along with his deep threat shooting ability, Butler has brought a new element of toughness to this Clippers team. And, with the Clippers currently sitting in first place in the Pacific Division, you can expect the team to rely on a healthy dose of “Tuff Juice” as the season goes on. 

Coming Soon: Clippers forward Blake Griffin as the Hulk. 

Colin J. Liotta is the co-founder of the website The Sports Hero along with his wife, Bushra, and acts as the Editor-in-Chief. The website combines sports and comics into one place for fans of both genres. See more of Colin's work at www.thesportshero.com