FORMER CLIPPER BUTLER’S TOUGHNESS, LEADERSHIP PUT TO USE BACK HOME
MILWAUKEE – Caron Butler’s image is in the middle of a long poster in the bowels of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
He’s got a look Clippers fans became familiar with. He’s half smirking and half glaring as if he’s the toughest nice guy you’ll ever know.
And it’s true. Butler’s two seasons in L.A. were personified by his toughness and will. Despite coming back from a gruesome knee injury in 2011 and being hampered by back problems and other nagging injuries, he missed just seven regular season games, two of which were merely to give him rest during the lockout-shortened season. He played through a fractured left hand in the 2012 Playoffs, an injury that was originally supposed to cost him weeks, cost him two days.
DeAndre Jordan, who along with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, played with Butler both seasons, said he’ll never forget Butler’s inspirational return in Game 3 against the Grizzlies.
“He’s a tough guy, man,” Jordan said. “He definitely wanted to win in that series. I kept telling him, ‘No, Caron, you’re not ready to come back.’ He was like, ‘No, I’m playing.’ And I will always respect him for that.”
Respect is something that Butler has widely earned over his 12 seasons and it’s why so many of his former teammates, including Jordan, were happy that when he left Los Angeles he was able to return home to Wisconsin.
“He taught us to play, you know what I mean,” Jordan said. “With his experience in Dallas and how that team was when they won the championship, he kind of told us, ‘We’re almost there. We’ve just got to start doing this right or keep doing this.’ It was good to play with a guy like that. I’m happy that he’s home.”
Through 27 games Butler’s homecoming has not been what he may have hoped. The Bucks (8-35) have been mired in an injury riddled, rebuilding season. But Butler, 33, has had his moments. He’s averaging 10.5 points per game, a fraction more than he did in his final year with the Clippers, and scored a season-high 38 points on his personal bobblehead promotional night at Bradley Center. He has also been the locker-room leader the Bucks hoped for when they acquired him from the Phoenix Suns, a few weeks after the Clippers dealt him this summer.
“He’s been phenomenal,” Bucks head coach Larry Drew said. “This has to be difficult for Caron as well. He and I we’ve sat and talked a lot. He understands what him what I need from him and he’s more than willing to be that person, to show the professionalism and leadership in that locker room, particularly for our young guys.”
When the Clippers brought Butler in during the mad scramble free agency period that followed the signing of a new collective bargaining agreement, the thinking was not dissimilar. He was a well-respected leader coming off a championship in Dallas. Moreover, Butler’s signing may have been a message that the Clippers were intent on pursuing higher profile free agents.
Antawn Jamison, who played alongside Butler in Washington, knew what kind of player the Clippers got in 2011-12 and what Butler could mean to a young locker room in Milwaukee.
“He was one guy that no matter who you were playing, no matter if it was four in five nights, you knew he was going to bring it,” Jamison said. “He never missed games when he was hurt. He was that dog, that toughness of the team when we were out there playing. You had myself, you had Gilbert [Arenas], but he was the glue of that team.
“He knows what it’s all about and he knows what you have to do. He’s home so I know he’s happy to be home and he’s definitely a great guy to have your team and show young guys what it takes to be a professional.”
He wants to make a statement back home, too. In the midst of losing, Butler, who will be a free agent after season, has been asked multiple times if he wants to be traded or move on to a “better situation.” But the guy so many affectionately call “Tuff Juice” is adamant that he prefers to stick through it, which sounds a lot like the guy Clippers fans would be familiar with as well.