Caron Butler can't play but still excited about D.C. homecoming
Caron Butler crumbled to the floor, grabbed his right knee and rolled over in agony. He angrily slapped the court at Bradley Center, realizing immediately that the injury was serious. Back in Milwaukee, just a full-court pass from his hometown of Racine, Wis., Butler could only think about the loved ones he had in attendance who were looking on, waiting for his next move.
"Just get up," Butler said he told himself on New Year's Day, when his 11th season was interrupted as he ruptured the patella tendon in his right knee in an arena that has brought him plenty of misery over the years.
After needing about two minutes, Butler was helped to his feet and limped off the court, on his own power, hoping to give his mother, Mattie Paden, grandmother, Margaret Butler, and wife, Andrea, a slight sense of comfort.
"I wasn't going to be carried off the court," said Butler, the former Washington Wizard who was dealt to Dallas last season. "I wasn't gong to let them worry themselves by letting me get hauled off on a stretcher or something. I just jumped on my feet and walked off. I knew I would be fine."
But when Butler went to the locker room, he got the devastating news that his season was likely over. The timing couldn't have been worse for Butler, since he will be a free agent this summer and was having a decent season with the Dallas Mavericks, providing a solid complementary piece around Dirk Nowitzki for championship contender.
Butler, however, refused to let the injury deny him of the opportunity to continue his championship pursuit. The normal timetable for a return was four-to-six months, so instead of sulking, Butler focused on trying to make a return. The regular season may have been out of the question, but with the NBA's prolonged postseason, coming back for the playoffs was not out of the question.
"With free agency coming upon, you don't know if this will be your last opportunity to compete for a title," Butler said. "A lot of things happen, a lot of situations are thrown at you and free agency, anything can happen. Depending on what happens, you'll probably see me out there [in the playoffs]. I'm not having any pain. Not having any restrictions, swelling or nothing. That's why I'm attacking it really aggressive. It's looking good. It's important for me to compete for a title."
Butler has been working diligently on his rehabilitation, riding bikes, working out in the pool and spending time at Texas Sports Medicine facility, where he spends 75 minutes in a cylindrical hyperbaric chamber in order to accelerate his return. He missed the Wizards' 102-92 loss in Dallas last month, but was able to walk around without discomfort. And he will again be out when the Mavericks return to Washington on Saturday for the first time since he was dealt, along with Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson, in a trade deadline move that landed Josh Howard.
Butler hasn't traveled with the Mavericks for many road trips, but he felt compelled to join them so that he could walk through Verizon Center one more time, speak with some old friends and reminisce over the place where he spent 4 ½ years of his career -- the longest and most personally rewarding stint of his four stops.
"It's disappointing not to be able to come there to suit up and show out, but I'm still going to be in the building. I'm going to see some great fans and people that supported me throughout my career and still do. It's going to be a good feeling to come back and see everybody," Butler said. "DC, I got a house there. I stay in Fairfax. I will go back there. I love Washington. It'll always have a special place in my heart. Because that was home for five years, it hurt to leave."
He made two all-star appearances and earned the nickname, "Tuff Juice," for his hard-nosed style of play with the Wizards. But Butler also feels the disappointment that came from losing three straight first-round playoff series to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers -- and from the inability of him, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison to provide much more than a tease. Injuries held back the trio at first, then chemistry problems erupted last season, and now none of them remains after he was dealt to Dallas, Jamison went to Cleveland and Arenas was shipped to Orlando last December.
"When all that happened," Butler said, without mentioning the gun incident, "I knew something had to happen. Everything ran its course. I wish we could've had one more shot at it, but unfortunately we didn't. We couldn't rally together and get the wins that we needed, due to all types of circumstances that wasn't pertaining to basketball. I was happy for Antawn with him going to Cleveland at the time, with LeBron and having a chance to win a title. I was happy for myself and everybody that came with me, Brendan and DeShawn as well, because we had a chance to play for a playoff caliber team and at times a championship-caliber team. And Gilbert as well, he got a chance to go down to Orlando and I know the weather is good for his leg and a change of scenery."
Butler still keeps track of the Wizards -- as he also does with his former teams, Miami and Los Angeles -- and he noticed how the team has struggled as it begins to rebuild. "They'll be fine eventually," he said. "It's a transition period. Got a lot of young guys, guys trying to find their roles. [Coach] Flip [Saunders] is throwing a lot of things at them, but they'll be fine."
Butler has moved on, but he was concerned that he would have to adjust again, when his name came up in trade speculation at the deadline, with the Mavericks using his $10.8 million expiring contract as a chip to upgrade the roster.
"I'd be a fool to sit here on this phone and say I didn't think anything would happen, or I wasn't worried anything about that," Butler said. "Financially, I'm secure for the rest of my life, so I wasn't worried about anything from that standpoint. I was worried that my kids are out here, what are the requirements for me if I do get traded. Do I got to go to the other team? My rehab set up is going so well right here. I was worried about a lot of things. Just the camaraderie we built and going to something new. A lot of things were racing through my head."
But Butler's primary focus is getting back on the court. "I don't know what particular date," he said. "But I can tell you that I'm doing great physically and mentally and I have every intention of playing in the playoffs this season. And once I set my mind to something, set a goal, I usually attain and I'm definitely trying to make that happen.
"We strongly feel like we can win a title," Butler continued. "We got all the pieces in place and we're moving forward, during the trade deadline, we didn't make any moves or adjustments because we felt like we had what we needed in this locker room and we're moving forward. We're feeling really good about our chances. I'm grateful, happy to be here and strongly feel like I'll be back [in Dallas next season]."
Butler would like to return to Dallas, but he has already ruled out one potential landing spot in free agency. After the Wizards' best chance at making a deep playoff run was ruined when he broke his hand chasing down a block on April Fool's Day in 2007, and his best chance of a title run was almost halted this year, the Bucks can forget about signing him.
"Man, I'm staying away from Milwaukee for a while," Butler said with a laugh. "I done had too many injuries in Milwaukee. I'll be here [in Dallas] through July 1 and I'll be able to do whatever I want, for the first time in my career. I do have another big deal in me."
| February 26, 2011; 3:02 PM ET
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