Caron Butler Prepared, Ready to Mentor Young Suns Team

Caron Butler has made good impression within and around the Suns' organization.
Caron Butler has made good impression within and around the Suns' organization.
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Caron Butler’s first impression in Phoenix couldn’t have gone much better. He was engaging, friendly, even funny. How many players can joke about their general manager having a “man-crush” on him and get away with it?

There are other reasons to like what Butler brings to the table, though. He can shoot (38.8 percent on three-pointers last season), he’s versatile and he was an All-Star (three times).

There’s something else about Butler that’s less about basketball, more about character: he enjoys being with kids.

Butler’s offseason means catch-up time with his five children. They spent a good chunk of time together in the Midwest, where the 11-year veteran was able to put on – and keep on – his fun dad hat.

“I spent a lot of time back home with the kids, going to the beach in Racine, Wisconsin,” Butler said. “I was far away with the kids. I had a great time.”

In the coming months Butler will trade time with his biological kids for time with the “kids” on the Suns roster. Butler is the only player on the team older than 30, and just one of four older than 27.

When asked whether offseason time with his kids was good practice for in-season time with his younger teammates, Butler laughingly admitted the Suns were stacked with “young fellas” before acknowledging the mentor-like role he plans to assume.

"We’ve got a great group on paper already. I see the potential. It’s up to us as vets and older guys to bring the potential out of guys sooner."

-- Caron Butler

“I like the challenge,” Butler said. “I’ve got some help. I’ve got guys with experience that have been around, seen things. PJ [Tucker’s] been around. I’ve been around. You just teach them a winning approach. You teach them little things. Guys are so much better at accepting things and adapting quicker now…we’ve got a great group on paper already. I see the potential. It’s up to us as vets and older guys to bring the potential out of guys sooner.”

Butler’s eagerness to assume the role of elder statesman stems back to his early playing days with the Heat. The small forward’s role was reversed back then, of course. He was the highly touted young talent on a young team transitioning from one era to the next.

All-Star center Alonzo Mourning, who was sidelined with a kidney illness at the time, saw the 22-year-old Butler intent on proving he had dropped too far as the 10th overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft.

Mourning, unable to play and missing every aspect of the game, took the time to say something that Butler hasn’t forgotten since.

“The best advice that Mourning said to me a long time ago, ‘Live in the moment, young fella. Live in the moment," Butler recalled. "I was like, ‘ you know, I’m going to do that.’”

Mourning’s mantra helped Butler through two trades, first to Los Angeles in his third year, then to Washington the following season. It was with the Wizards that he eventually blossomed as an All-Star scoring threat at small forward.

Injuries hampered portions of his career, but Butler never let the disappointments drown out the joys of being an NBA player.

Now the marquee veteran surrounded by young players full of goals and potential setbacks, Butler is eager to help them stay on a positively even keel.

Butler started the mentoring process on day one with the organization. At his introductory press conference following the trade that brought him to Phoenix, Butler was effusive in publicly praising and building up fellow newcomer Eric Bledsoe. He said more of the same about Bledsoe after the Suns’ jersey unveiling last week.

“I saw so much promise from him in just in practice,” Butler said. “It says a lot to have a guy like Chris Paul there, and seeing the way they competed after each other night in and night out in practice. Man, I mean, he held his own.”

Butler was similarly supportive in Las Vegas, where he dropped in to watch the Suns Summer League team go 6-1. As it did for Head Coach Jeff Hornacek, Butler’s time in Vegas gave him a headstart in getting to know the younger players, connect with them and let them know they’ve got a veteran in their corner.

Perhaps nothing illustrated Butler’s mentoring strategy than the compliment-and-construct take he shared on highly touted first-round pick Archie Goodwin, the youngest player on the team.

“I love Archie. I love the fact that he can get into that paint,” Butler said. “I like that he’s fearless like that. We’re going to stay on him and we’re going to continue to talk to him, to stay positive and just keep him going.”

Such a philosophy will serve the Suns well in the coming season, when young potential will meet the NBA’s learning curve. Wherever that curve takes them, expect Butler to appreciate the ride.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “Life comes in seasons and I’m in a great season in my life right now, a great place.”