Caron Butler signed with the Thunder because he wanted to be part of another championship team.
A bigger part.
Butler already has a ring, won three years ago when he was in Dallas. But an injury kept him from playing even a single minute during the Mavs’ playoff run. So, when Milwaukee bought out his contract earlier this season, Butler wanted the chance at another title, but he also wanted more than a roster spot, a seat on the bench and a chair in the team photo.
That’s why he’ll be in Oklahoma City on Thursday night for a showdown with the Spurs, not in Miami on an off day.
“I wanted to play,” Butler said. “I wanted to be effective.
“I wanted to have my fingerprints even more on the success of the team.”
He knew that could happen in Oklahoma City, and darned if he wasn’t right. Butler has been a spark to the second unit, providing both a veteran presence and a deep threat. In the 13 games he’s played with the Thunder, he has shot nearly 40 percent from behind the 3-point line and averaged nearly 10 points a game.
And he isn’t shy about firing from deep. Since arriving in Oklahoma City, he has averaged 5.6 3-points attempts a game, the most in his career.
But even as Butler has been quick on the trigger, he’s shooting it almost as well as he ever has. There’s only been one other time in his career that he has shot as well as he has with the Thunder.
That started as such a magical season. After being traded from a struggling team in Washington the season before, Butler landed in the starting lineup in Dallas. He was shooting well, scoring high and best of all, the Mavs were winning.
Then right after the first of the year, Butler tore the patella tendon in his right knee. Surgery was needed, and his season was over.
The weeks that followed were a struggle for the already hobbled Mavs, who lost six of their next eight games. But in the playoffs, Dallas hit a stride, only losing a total of three games in three series against Western Conference foes, then beating Miami in six games.
Butler looks at that season with mixed emotions.
“It was a blow physically,” he said of the injury, “but I wouldn’t trade it for anything because we got the championship. I was in the locker room. My voice was heard every night, every game, so that was special.”
But still, he’s a player. Players want to play.
There’s got to be some part of that championship that seems hollow. Unfulfilling. Like a sugary soda. It doesn’t satisfy and only leaves you wanting that taste again.
This time, Butler wants a title that satisfies. That’s why he picked the Thunder over the Heat. Both are title contenders — Butler even started his NBA career in Miami — but there were no assurances he’d get playing time with the Heat. Miami brings Ray Allen, James Jones, Rashard Lewis and Michael Beasley off the bench to play that swingman role.
Was Butler going to beat out those guys?
Maybe one or two, but it’s hard to imagine he was going to beat out Allen and get Ray Ray’s shots.
Miami general manager Pat Riley even addressed that issue during a charity event in Miami last month.
“They wanted a meaningful role,” Riley said of Butler and his representatives, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, “and I don’t blame them.
“We love Caron. We reached out to him. But he was very definitive with what he wanted, and I don’t think it’s something we could have promised.”
Did Sam Presti and the Thunder promise something?
I can’t say for certain, but they probably didn’t need to. Butler could look at the Thunder and see that its second unit had room for improvement. Jeremy Lamb had been solid but not spectacular. Ditto for Perry Jones.
It’s easier to foresee beating out a Thunder U undergrad than Ray Allen.
The way Butler’s playing right now, though, he might’ve been able to beat out just about any reserve swingman in the league. He makes the Thunder even more dangerous and more potent.
He credits everyone around him.
“The organization. The coaching staff. Obviously, my teammates,” he said when asked why he made such a seamless transition in Oklahoma City.
But Butler’s talents and abilities are part of the equation, too. So is the motivation that he brings from the championship season that was perfect but for his busted knee.
He wants another title, and if he gets to hold the Larry O’Brien Trophy again, he wants to see his fingerprints on it.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.