BUTLER AND ODOM HAVE CAREER-LONG CONNECTION
Caron Butler received the ball on the block while posting up on one play in a team scrimmage during the first day of training camp at the Clippers’ Playa Vista Training Center. Securing the ball across his chest with his elbows out, he peered to his left, feeling new Clipper Lamar Odom’s arm bar up, not backing down on defense and ready to block the shot.
Butler then drop-stepped to his other side, almost dunking on Odom, who couldn’t help but joke and trash talk in the excitement of being reunited with his long-time friend and former teammate.
“He went in on me on that play,” Odom said, shaking his head as if he was back in the post guarding Butler again. “That’s my guy, though. We laughed about it after—it’s all in fun. I’ve known him for a long time.”
The two veteran forwards with 10-plus seasons apiece in the league have a history together, first with the Miami Heat in the 2003-04 season and then with the Lakers the following season in 2004-05. Going at it against each other in practice is nothing new, as Butler, then just a second-year player, recalls Odom instilling a competitive mindset in him in their early days with the Heat.
“Our motto in Miami was to try to push each other and make each other better,” Butler said. “He really pushed me, and made me want to push him back harder.”
What came out of these battles was more than bumps, bruises and even blood: a thorough understanding of each other’s games—where each liked the ball, the timing each took to cut and get open, and when one wanted either the lob for a dunk or the quick backdoor pass for a layup. Naturally, knowing each other’s next move before they took them translated into game situations.
The 2003-04 Heat were underdogs, going from a 25-57 record the season before to 42-40, almost pulling off an upset of the top-seeded Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before losing the series, 4-2. Odom averaged a near double-double in the playoffs with 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds a night, while Butler complemented him with 12.8 points and 8.5 boards per game.
Odom and Butler formed a dynamic offensive trio with the then-rookie Dwyane Wade, who emerged as a franchise cornerstone.
After the season arguably one of the biggest trades in league history sent Odom and Butler to the Lakers in exchange for Shaquille O’Neal, who along with Wade, helped the Heat win the championship two seasons later (2005-06).
Although the Lakers did not fare well as a team that year, missing the playoffs for the first time in 11 years, Odom and Butler gelled as teammates even more. When one went outside on the perimeter, the other took it inside in the post.
Odom averaged a double-double for the first time in his career with a 15.0 and 10.0 line, while Butler added 15.5 points and 5.8 boards per contest, also leading the team in total steals with 110.
In an 82-game season that includes road trips, shootarounds, press conferences, practices, meetings and community events, there’s limited time for anything outside of basketball. But it was in the moments between NBA obligations that cultivated Odom and Butler’s bond the most.
“Our times on the road, on buses or planes, meant a lot to me,” Butler said. “We always reflected on where we came from, and our stories are very similar. We really related on a lot of personal things.”
Odom was born a year before Butler in Queens, New York in 1979, while Butler was born in Racine, Wisconsin in 1980. The pair both grew up in tough, inner-city neighborhoods. Both were also raised in single female-headed households: Odom by his grandmother after his mother died of colon cancer when he was 12 and Butler by his mother.
The two almost crossed paths in college as early-entry candidates, but Odom played a year for Rhode Island in 1998-99 before being selected No. 4 overall by the Clippers in 1999, and Butler played for Connecticut from 2000-02 before being selected No. 10 by Miami in 2002.
Their time together was again eventually cut short, as Butler was traded to the Wizards a year after his arrival in Los Angeles, and would play in Washington for the next five years (2005-10) and won his first championship with the Mavericks in 2011 despite missing the final half of the season with a knee injury. Odom, on the other hand, stayed with the Lakers six more seasons, winning two championships in 2009 and 2010 and a Sixth Man of the Year award the following year.
Odom’s signing with the Clippers in June reunited the two once more. Yet they are not the young, hard-nosed players they once were, determined to make their mark on the league. Now they’re older, smarter players who have been knocked around a bit, who know what it takes to win.
But can they finally win a ring together for the first time in their careers?
“Man, it would be great to do it together,” Butler said. “The NBA journey took us so many places, and we’ve had our own individual successes. But to come back and win it together would be extremely special.”
Until then they’ll be guarding each other, pushing, laughing, joking and fighting one-on-one in practice like the NBA brothers they have always been.