The Oklahoman’s staff writers discuss three topics surrounding Caron Butler.
How did Caron Butler’s performance in a Thunder uniform align with your expectations?
Darnell Mayberry, Thunder beat writer: I was pleasantly surprised at how well he played in the regular season. In the postseason, I couldn’t believe how much he struggled. That’s where I thought the move would pay off most with Butler being such an experienced player.
Anthony Slater, Thunder beat writer: Better than expected in the regular season. Worst than expected in the postseason. And part of it is because he raised the ceiling upon arrival, averaging 9.7 points in 22.7 minutes the final 22 games, shooting a crisp 44 percent from 3-point range. He even had a 5-of-5 and 6-of-6 game from deep. So entering the playoffs, it was expected that would continue. But that scorching clip was far above his career average (34 percent from three) and the pendulum swung the other way, with Butler crashing back to Earth.
Berry Tramel, Columnist: Regular season, very much. Playoffs, not much at all. Butler was a solid offensive producer in the regular season, though defensively he was not as effective as I thought. Then in the playoffs, he didn't play well at all. Went from starting two games against Memphis — there's the answer to a trivia question in a few years; what player ended the Durant-Westbrook-Serge-Perk-Thabo lineup? — to not playing at all in Spurs Game 6. I think Butler was a valuable lesson for us. There's a reason most guys at 34 aren't what they were at 28.
Would the Thunder have been better off passing on Butler and sticking with its young players?
Mayberry: In the short term, yes. In the long term, no. Let me explain. I think Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones III could have supplied more in the playoffs with just their athleticism alone. I would have said the same thing before seeing Butler struggle in the postseason, even though I had questions about how prepared both Lamb and Jones were for the playoffs. On the flip side, Butler served as a mentor to a lot of the team’s younger players and even helped out Kevin Durant along the way. Because of that, the Thunder’s young players will be better in the long run for spending a chunk of a season around Butler.
Slater: No. It was needed at the time and, through the Memphis series, he was great. Once he hit the skids, shooting 19-of-61 (31 percent) combined against the Clippers and Spurs, Scott Brooks should have had a quicker trigger, going to Jeremy Lamb sooner. But Butler was helpful and, if he doesn’t hit a sudden slump at the worst possible time, we’re talking about what a great move it was to bring him in.
Tramel: In retrospect, yes. Better to have given Jeremy Lamb those minutes and let him develop. You could say Butler helped OKC get over the hump against the Grizzlies, but since we’re retrospecting, I think Lamb could have done the same thing. Scotty Brooks just needed to relieve the defensive pressure Memphis was placing on mostly Kevin Durant and to some degree on Russell Westbrook. Lamb could have done that. And the growth benefits to Lamb would have been mighty.
Do you think the Thunder will re-sign Butler?
Mayberry: I don’t. But you never know. Butler proved in the regular season that he has something left in the tank, and of course he’s eager to get a championship. So it could happen. But at this point, I don’t see it happening until late September if it does and for little more than the veteran minimum.
Slater: Better chance than people think. The no-show at exit interviews paints a cloudier picture — and could be a sign the professional relationship is over. But knowing how the Thunder likes to construct its roster, he still potentially fits a need. A well-respected locker room presence, a cheap contract and a guy who Scott Brooks trusts. My guess: He’s not back. But I wouldn’t be surprised.
Tramel: No, I don't think the Thunder will re-sign Butler. I don't think it's impossible, but it will have to be for the minimum salary. And the Thunder is ready to move on down the road with Lamb and Perry Jones and probably Reggie Jackson as the primary perimeter players off the bench. Butler seemed to be a solid character guy, so there's always a chance, but I doubt it.