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Butler Hopes to Keep Reggie's Prediction Alive

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

July 5, 2013

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Rasual Butler has played in 638 NBA games with five teams over 10 NBA seasons, so he's collected a few memories along the way.

One that's stuck with him occurred on Jan. 15, 2003, during his rookie season with Miami. The Heat lost to the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse that day, but Butler started and scored 21 points, hitting 8-of-13 field goal attempts and 3-of-4 three-pointers. Before he left the court, Reggie Miller had a few words for him.

“He walked up to me after the game and said to continue to work hard,” Butler recalled. “He said, 'You'll be in this league for a long time.'”

Ten seasons in the NBA qualifies as a long time, so Miller was right. Now, however, Butler finds himself trying to get back in the league via the Pacers, who will offer him a rebounding opportunity in Summer League play in Orlando next week.

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Butler has stood out among the players who have practiced at Bakers Life Fieldhouse this week, for multiple reasons. He's shot well, he knows where to be defensively, and he's vintage. He's 34 years old, which is seven years older than anyone else who survived Friday's initial cut, and 12 years older than the Pacers' latest draft pick, Solomon Hill. It's never a 34-year-old's ambition to be trying out for an NBA team in Summer League play, but it's not Butler's way to deny reality.

He's not a jaded veteran who feels he's been mistreated, he's an eager one looking for an open door.

“I can still play,” he said. “I don't have a lot of miles on my body. My age isn't consistent with the miles. The minutes played has a lot to do with it. I didn't start to play heavy minutes until my fifth year in the league. And, I've taken care of my body. It's just a matter of finding the right opportunity.”

Opportunities had been abundant, although geographically diverse, throughout Butler's NBA career. A second round draft pick of the Heat, he lasted three seasons in Miami before he was part of the largest trade in league history, a four-team, 13-player deal that sent him to New Orleans. After four seasons there he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for a second-round draft pick. After a season-and-a-half in L.A. he was waived and signed by Chicago for the rest of the season. He signed with Toronto for the lockout season, played in 34 games and started 14, but was waived before the deadline to be eligible for the playoffs in case another team wanted to pick him up. He went unclaimed.

The Pacers began getting progress reports on Butler late last year, when he was working out with Joe Abunnasar, director of Impact Basketball training in Las Vegas. Abunnasar crossed over with Pacers scouting director Ryan Carr for one season as a student manager at Indiana University, and told Carr that Butler was looking better than he had in a few years. Carr kept tabs on Butler while he played for the Tulsa 66ers in the NBA Development League, where he averaged 17.8 points over 31 games and won the league's Impact Player of the Year award because of the improvement he brought to the team.

The 6-7 Butler turned down a few other tryout offers to join the Pacers Summer League team, viewing it as a realistic opportunity with a contending team. The Pacers already have Paul George, Danny Granger, Gerald Green and rookie Solomon Hill as swingman options, but injuries and trades can open a cracked door wider.

“I like what they stand for,” Butler said of the Pacers. “It's a bring-your-lunch-pail-every-day, team-first approach. It was an easy choice for me.

“They said they're looking for shooters. They said they're looking for veterans as well. I'm both of those things.”

Butler's status as a veteran is mathematical. His status as a shooter is less certain, but there's evidence of it. He's hit 40 percent of his field goals and 36 percent of his three-pointers in his 10 NBA seasons, but dropped to 31 percent and 27 percent in his 34 games with Toronto two seasons ago. He shot better with Tulsa last winter, particularly in the five playoff games when he hit 49 percent from the field and 48 percent from the three-point line.

“He hits every shot,” said Pacers assistant coach Dan Burke, who will direct the Pacers' Summer League entry.

“He's been tremendous. He's working his butt off, and he's talking to guys.”

That turned out to be the primary benefit of last winter's D-League experience for Butler. He brushed up on his communication skills, and grew comfortable lending advice to younger players. In the NBA, he had been a lead-by-example guy. There, he learned to add words to his message.

“It was a humbling experience, but I was able to get comfortable doing some things I hadn't done in awhile,” he said. “I was able to get some post-ups, run more ball screens, things you need to do to be effective in the NBA. I also was able to develop some leadership skills and be a little more vocal. That's not something I came into the league doing. At this stage of my career, it's important to pass on some of the experience that I have.”

He's done that with the Pacers, according to Burke. He's arrived early, left late, kept his shirt-tail tucked in throughout, and communicated with the younger players. Friday, after most of them had left the practice court for the locker room, he was standing at the foul line farthest from the exit talking with one of last season's rookies, Orlando Johnson, and next season's rookie, Solomon Hill. The message to Johnson related to his shooting form, while Hill got a few words of advice on weakside defense.

Butler's experience could wind up working either way for him. He could be viewed as a valuable, end-of-bench asset, a veteran who won't complain about his role, won't make many mistakes on the court, will hit some shots and help mentor younger players. But, he also could be viewed as a past-his-prime veteran taking a spot from a younger, developing player.

“He should have a roster spot somewhere,” Burke said. “Even if it's the 12th or 13th guy, who's able and willing to help the young guys, be a part of the group and then if he's ever thrown in there can hit an open shot. It just depends on the makeup of the locker room. He'd be a plus because he's got something to give.”

Whether it's with the Pacers or another NBA team, Butler just wants to fulfill Miller's prediction for another season.

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