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Mason Hoping to Follow Butler's Path

by Mark Montieth Writer

Rasual Butler and Roger Mason Jr. both were chosen in the second round of the 2002 NBA draft, and have ricocheted around the league the way journeymen do. Butler has played for six franchises and Mason for seven, and while they have four former teams in common, they've never wound up on the same team at the same time.

Their ships-in-the-night journeys could continue next season, if Mason is able to follow Butler's example.

Mason was among the players who began Summer League practice with the Pacers on Tuesday, and will play in the games in Orlando that begin later this week. It's an unusual path for a 33-year-old veteran, but not an unprecedented one. Butler did it last year as a 34-year-old veteran trying to get back in the NBA and wound up a valuable member of a Pacers team that reached the Eastern Conference Finals.

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Mason and his agent took note of that in their search for an opening back into the NBA.

“(The Pacers) having a track record of that made a difference for me for sure,” Mason said following Tuesday morning's workout on the Bankers Life Fieldhouse practice court. “But, really, I just want to come here and work hard and let the guys see I haven't lost the step. I'm a little bit younger (than Butler) and don't have as many miles.

“Summer League wasn't on my radar. This is a special situation, given that these guys are contenders. I wouldn't have gone to Summer League anywhere else. It wasn't something I was contemplating at all, to be honest with you. But given what Rasual did last year, that was a path that I liked.”

Mason spent two seasons overseas, so his NBA career isn't as dense as Butler's. Their stories, however, are similar even if their itineraries have not intersected. Mason, a 6-5 shooting guard who can slide to small forward, has averaged 6.3 points in 17.7 minutes per game in the NBA. Butler, a 6-7 small forward who can slide to shooting guard, has averaged 7.8 points in 22.2 minutes. Both are regarded as mature players who would be an asset to any locker room.

Butler, now a free agent like Mason, has an uncertain future. Mason could land a spot if the Pacers wind up in need of a shooting guard as last season's primary shooting guards, Lance Stephenson and Evan Turner, are free agents.

The idea of bringing Mason to the Pacers' Summer League team was broached when Mason's agent was speaking with Pacers representatives recently.

“With the success we had last year (with Butler), why not?” Pacers scouting director Ryan Carr said. “He's trying to prove himself and do it the hard way. Why not?

“You never know what's going to happen. You get a chance to get a veteran guy and a big-time person …”

Mason is the Vice-President of the National Basketball Players Association, and a member of the association's program that allow players to work toward front office positions. He spent time in Denver before this year's draft as an adviser and intern of sorts, and said he has turned down two front office opportunities already. He will attend the Summer League games in Las Vegas after the Orlando league finishes to evaluate talent, and admits to being a general manager “in my own mind for the last few years.”

It shouldn't have been a surprise, then, that after his back tightened up about three-fourths of the way through practice, he spent the rest of the session on the sideline in conversation with former Pacers president Donnie Walsh.  

The front office can wait, however.

“I'm just not ready yet,” he said. “I still have miles in me. I still want to play when I can. Hopefully those offers are still there when I finish.”

Mason said Walsh considered drafting him in 2002, when the Pacers took Fred Jones with the 14th pick. Mason was the second player chosen in the second round that year, officially the 30th pick because Minnesota had forfeited its first-round selection. During his three-year run as New York's president, Walsh signed Mason to the Knicks roster in 2010-11.

Mason, who entered the NBA draft after his junior season at Virginia, had his best season with San Antonio in 2008-09, when he averaged 11.8 points and hit 42 percent of his three-point shots. (You can watch him hitting a game-winning three-pointer against Phoenix on Christmas Day in 2008 in the video on the right.)

He played 25 games with Miami last season, but was traded to Sacramento and then released by the Kings in a cost-cutting move. He cleared waivers but league rules prohibited him from returning to the Heat and he wasn't picked up by another team, so he returned to Miami where he makes his year-round home and has been working out ever since.

And, no, he wouldn't mind playing for the Heat's biggest conference rival. 

“I was very close with that group in the locker room,” Mason said. “I've be lying if I said it wasn't a little different. But the reality is those guys traded me. To be on this team and compete against them would be fun.”

Mason is primary a three-point shooter, having hit 38 percent of his attempts over his career. He's not much of a scorer otherwise, having hit just 40 percent of all of his field goal attempts. He's also an 87 percent free throw shooter and has averaged less than one turnover per game.

In other words, he's a safe addition for any team that could use another scoring threat.

“There's not many guys who are knock-down shooters; I'm one of them,” Mason said. “For a team that's competing for championships, there's always a need for shooting. That's why I have interest here and hopefully they have interest in me as well.”

But, seriously? Summer league? You, Mr. 11-year-veteran-34-years-old-in-September Roger Mason?

“You're never too anything to come out here and compete,” he said. “I love the game of basketball. If these young guys here see me out here working out with them, that's a good thing.”

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Indiana Pacers. All opinions expressed by Mark Montieth are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Indiana Pacers, their partners, or sponsors.

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