Roundabout brings Butler home

Wisconsin native embraces becoming a Buck

Caron Butler becomes just the fifth Wisconsin native to play for the Bucks
Caron Butler becomes just the fifth Wisconsin native to play for the Bucks

Caron Butler has often sported a headband during his nine years as a National Basketball Association player.

It would be fittingly symbolic if he wears one during his 10th pro season, because his hoops career has taken him full-circle.

Butler, born and raised in Racine, Wis., has worn the uniforms of the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers. He was a member of the Phoenix Suns for about a month and a half during the summer of 2013.

On Aug. 29, however, Butler came home to Wisconsin – and not just for a brief, late-summer visit with his family.

The Milwaukee Bucks acquired the 33-year-old forward from Phoenix in exchange for Ish Smith and Viacheslav Kravtsov.

Seven days after the deal went down, Butler returned to his alma mater, Racine Park High School, where he was introduced as a member of his homestate NBA team before a gathering of family members, friends and Park students and staff. Bucks owner Herb Kohl, General Manager John Hammond and Head Coach Larry Drew were in the house, too.

Since Butler’s homecoming, he has repeatedly expressed his elation over his acquisition by the Bucks.

“I have to thank my family, first of all and my agency, IM Sports, for just telling me to hang in there and everything would work itself out,” Butler said.

“Going to Phoenix, going down there and talking to the organization and them handling me in a great manner, treating me like a human being and not just a slab of meat, meant a lot.

“And then the Bucks organization reached out and got me here. That meant a lot. There is nothing I won’t do for this organization, for coming to get me and putting me in a position to be successful and giving me a platform to do what I love doing.”

Butler, who becomes just the fifth Wisconsin native to play for the Bucks, followed the team closely as a youngster during one of the franchise’s most successful eras.

“I followed them all the time, watching Sidney Moncrief and those guys, then obviously ‘Big Dog’ (Glenn Robinson) and Ray Allen, one of the UConn greats, who came here, along with Sam Cassell and all those guys,” Butler said. “They did some great things here.

“For me, it was a situation in which I had always wanted to wear that uniform, but never thought it would actually happen. Now it is.”

Butler left Racine in 1998 to bolster his academics and basketball at Maine Central Institute, a prep school in Pittsfield, Maine.

Two years later, he accepted a scholarship from the University of Connecticut. He averaged team highs of 15.6 points and 7.6 rebounds as a freshman and 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per outing as a sophomore. He led the Huskies to the Big East Conference regular-season and tournament titles in 2001-02 and helped them reach the Elite Eight of the 2002 NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Maryland despite Butler’s 32-point outburst.

Butler entered the 2002 National Basketball Association Draft and was chosen with the 10th overall pick by the Miami Heat.

He averaged 15.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists and finished third in the NBA Rookie of the Year balloting following the 2002-03 season, making the All-Rookie First Team.

He played two seasons with the Heat, one with the Lakers and four with the Wizards, making the NBA Eastern Conference All-Star Team in 2006-07 and 2007-0 and then averaging a career-best 20.8 points per game in 2008-09.

He was dealt to Dallas in February of 2013 and played the next season and a half for the Mavericks, earning an NBA championship ring in 2010.

Butler spent his last two previous NBA seasons with the Clippers, during which he hiked his pro totals to 11,320 points (15.5 ppg), 3,940 rebounds (5.4 rpg) and 1,836 assists (2.5 apg).

Upon his homecoming to Wisconsin, Butler said he spoke with Hammond about being a mentor to his teammates.

“I thought it was just a great opportunity for me to come in and share my experiences, and at the same time still be able to perform on the court,” Butler said.

I think that speaks volumes, being out there on the court or in the weight room with the guys and being able to perform at a high level still, and share my experiences and things I’ve gone through throughout the years.

“I’ll try to give them some shortcuts to help them learn things faster, learn on the fly. I hang my hat on being a professional on and off the court. I pride myself on continuing to get better, even at this stage of my career, and trying to help the younger guys. I think this is a great opportunity for all of us. I believe in these young guys. We’re going to make this happen.”

Drew knows what a valuable mentor Butler will be for his new young teammates, but he made it clear that the 6-foot-7-inch, 233-pound forward’s role will extend far beyond the wisdom he shares.

“When you talk about his leadership, we know what he’s capable of,” Drew aid. “But as a player, I see a guy who’s a shot-maker. He’s a guy you put out on the floor and know he’s going to compete at a high level the whole time he’s out on the floor.

“He’s a guy we’re going to depend upon at the ‘3’ spot. We’re going to get him the ball. I would say in most years, he’s been a third or fourth option in what they did. That won’t be the case here. He’ll be a very big part of what we do.”

Before the Bucks even began training camp, Butler organized a team-building effort, treating all of his new teammates to dinner.

“I extended myself to Coach Drew and he gave me all the guys’ contacts,” Butler said. “I reached out to them and they openly came to the meeting and we talked. We had good energy, a good vibe. That’s what you want to establish a tone for training camp. We’ll continue to build our camaraderie.

“I just want tap into my experience – my battles, my preparation. We had dinner and just talked about expectations, where we see this team going with the personnel we have and the new faces. We feel real good about what we can get accomplished here in Milwaukee.”

Guard O.J. Mayo, also acquired by Milwaukee over the summer, is one of several Bucks players who expressed their excitement at having Butler for a teammate.

“He’s a tough cookie,” Mayo said. “I think we all know that. He’s an NBA champion. I think we’ve all watched him playing with the Wizards in the ‘LeBron Series’ back in the day. Just to have him and knowing that he’s a frontline type of soldier, you know every night going into war you’re going to have his best.”

Butler said his new teammates can count on that.

“Ain’t nothing changing,” he said. “I hang my hat on being a professional on and off the court. I pride myself on continuing to get better, even at this stage of my career, and trying to help the younger guys. I think this is a great opportunity for all of us.”