I owe Caron Butler (and Neil Olshey) an apology.
When the Clippers originally signed Butler, I panned the signing pretty hard. Butler was an injury-prone player coming off a season-ending knee surgery with a habit of using a lot of possessions. He was a career 31 percent 3-point shooter. It just seemed like an awful lot of money for a pretty big risk, and I just didn’t understand the reasoning behind it.
With nearly half of the season completed, I’ll gladly eat some crow here and admit I was wrong about Butler being a bad signing.
When it was revealed by ESPNLA’s Ramona Shelburne that Chris Paul basically asked Neil Olshey to go get Caron Butler, I found it interesting. Why did Paul want Butler so badly? Why not a better 3-point shooter, or a slasher who could attack the rim?
I guess there were multiple answers to that question. In some ways, I think Paul wanted to see if Olshey was serious about trading for him. Signing Butler to a big deal indicated that the Clippers were no longer rebuilding and that they were fully financially dedicated to contending. Whatever you want, Chris, was basically what the signing implied.
As for why Paul would want to actually play with Butler, I think there’s a pretty easy answer to that as well.
Paul seems to really value confident players who can be depended on to be predictable with their actions. Ralph Lawler and Mike Smith mentioned on a telecast the other night that Paul said “Randy Foye is better than he thinks he is” or something along those lines, and I thought that was telling. Paul sees himself as a distributor first and foremost, and distributors require confident finishers.
If Paul works for 15 seconds of the shot clock to exploit angles in the pick-and-roll with his insane ballhandling, he doesn’t want to kick it out to someone who is going to be gun-shy or play hot potato with the thing. Basically, there’s no room for an identity crisis in a Paul led offense.
Butler doesn’t have those, and that’s a part of his game I greatly underestimated. We’ve talked plenty in the past here about the importance of a player knowing his limitations and not trying to do too much. Well, Butler has such a firm understanding and confidence in his abilities that he pretty much doesn’t bother with anything else. Butler is a shooter, and he knows that.
Butler is a perfect fit for Del Negro’s offense and this team, especially when you consider how good he’s been in the first quarters of games this year. Paul, really, has no interest in scoring in the first quarter. None. So it’s important the Clippers have that guy who can knock down open looks to stretch the defense and allow Blake Griffin the space to do his thing down low.
Even outside of the first quarter, when the Clippers need to get a shot off late in the clock, Butler is always there as a safety-valve because the high-release on his jumper is difficult to defend against. By shooting 37.5 percent from 3, Butler adds a critical element to the Clippers offense without it feeling forced.
Butler’s efforts individually on defense haven’t been bad, either. In his two matchups with Kobe Bryant this season, he made Bryant work for everything and contested just about every single one of his shots. Butler also played pretty well against LeBron James (which is no small feat) in the Clippers win over Miami. He’s never going to win any awards for his defense, but Butler has taken the charge of covering the other team’s best (or biggest) wing every night and has battled hard when directly challenged.
In a lot of ways, Butler represents this Clippers team pretty well. When you examine the Clippers under the microscope, you see imperfections — just like you would with every other team. But when you take a step back for a moment and gain some perspective, you can see that the Clippers are, in fact, a really good basketball team.
Personally, that’s been the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make this year. Just like most of you, I’ve watched the Clippers fail spectacularly season after season and to be honest, it’s scarred me a little bit. With the Clippers, I tend to look for the potential problems so I can prepare myself and know exactly how my heart is going to get ripped out. It’s more paranoia than blatant negativity.
So to Caron Butler, I’d like to issue a formal apology. Chris Paul was right for wanting you next to him on the wing. You’re the same tough player you’ve always been — I was just looking a little too closely to see it.