Caron Butler Q&A: Saunders Is 'An Offensive Genius'
In fact, Washington's record seems to confirm what many have suggested all summer: The Wizards should be one of the most improved teams in the league.
But before the Wizards turn the page, they re-visited their past, facing former coach Eddie Jordan, now with the 76ers, in a hard-fought win in Philadelphia on Tuesday night. Washington forward Caron Butler spoke to FanHouse on Wednesday about facing his friend and former coach, as well as his relief in seeing the locked-out referees return, his expectations for the season, the senseless tragedy at his alma mater and more.
FanHouse: Facing your old coach [on Tuesday] -- I know that you've vacationed with him during the summertime so it wasn't the first time you've seen him – but what was it like going up against him? I know players don't get excited for most preseason games, but did you and your teammates give a little extra for this game?
Caron Butler: It was fun being out there, and it was kind of awkward being on the other side just seeing him on the other end of the bench. But, we understand the nature of the beast, this is how the business works. A lot of guys are still fond of Coach Jordan -- I love him to death and miss him, but that's how things go. Guys really got up for the challenge to go out there and perform at a high level, and I thought they did a great job.
FanHouse: It was a pretty close game with a somewhat controversial ending -- depending on what side you're on – which maybe could be blamed on the replacement refs. I won't make you comment on that -- I'm not trying to take money out of your pocket -- but it sounds like the regular refs have reached a deal, and they're going to be coming back by the regular season. What's your thoughts on that as a player, was that something that you were paying attention to the whole time?
Butler: It's good. Yeah, we were paying attention. Obviously having the refs back is great for the game, it really is. You look at our tradition and our fraternity and they're great for the game. When you see Steve Javie out there, that's when you know you've really arrived. When you got guys like Dick Bavetta calling the game, that's when you know, "Man, I'm here. I made it. They're calling the game, the same guys that were calling the game when Magic and Michael and all those guys were playing. Now they're calling the game while I'm out here." That's special.
FanHouse: A lot of guys were sick [Tuesday] night -- Gilbert Arenas and Mike Miller. It was just the [regular] flu, but there's been a lot of hype and hysteria in the media with swine flu. Is there anything that you guys are doing different this year to avoid that?
Butler: Some of the things that the NBA has advised -- no handshakes, trying to do more of the fist pounds and stuff like that to prevent the spread of flu and germs. ... But for the most part, continuing to wash hands a lot, sanitize, cover your mouth when you sneeze (laughing) -- the basic things. There's only so much you can actually do.
FanHouse: Earlier in the preseason, Gilbert wasn't talking to the media, which goes completely against his personality, at least what we've seen in the past. What was the team's reaction to that? Were you guys surprised by it?
Butler: I was surprised by it. [But] I mean, he just wants to play basketball. I just think he wants to play basketball, he's happy to be back out there and he doesn't want to be bothered right now. He just wants to play basketball. He's been removed from the game which he loves dearly and he hasn't been able to play it over the last couple of years, and now that he is back healthy, that's all he wants to do is play basketball. So I don't think he wants to talk about anything, he just wants to go out there and show improvement.
FanHouse: Have you actually noticed a definite difference about him this year?
Butler: Outside of not talking to the media? That was a huge difference. But as far as just preparation and being who he is on the court, he still looks the same. He's just a great player.
FanHouse: Another common theme that has been unfortunately associated with the Wizards is that it seems like a lot of you guys can't seem to stay healthy at the same time. And just recently, there's Antawn Jamison's injury. Is that really frustrating to think, "Man, if we could all get healthy at the same time ..."
Butler: I just feel like if we can all remain healthy, by the grace of God, we can have an unbelievable year and compete for a title. And that's the goal. And that has always been the goal, to get healthy and compete for something special and be riding down Constitution [Avenue] with the [trophy]. That's a realistic goal with all of our core guys healthy and with the development of the young guys.
FanHouse: The NBA record for improvement in one year is 36 games; that would be a 55-win season for you guys. Is that something that you think is attainable?
Butler: Anything is attainable with this group that we have. We're just trying to go out there and perform at a high level and obviously redeem ourselves from last year, bring a lot of consistency – just prove to people that Wizards basketball is hear to stay. We're back.
FanHouse: Changing topics to a much more serious note: the recent tragedy at UConn. I know that you had a tough upbringing and it seems like college was a place that you really had a chance to get away from that. It just seems like college, that's not the place that you're supposed to have this type of tragic event. What was your reaction to that, and have you reached out to anyone at UConn?
Butler: I've talked to a lot of people in the basketball organization and that's something that hits home and affected everybody: UConn fans, all people were saddened by the news of the death. It's just something that's completely ironic and crazy to happen; I saw it on the news and I was just sitting there in shock, just sad and just hurt for the mother and the family and grieving with them and just wished them the best and hoped the team can balance everything out and be able to go out there and still perform at a high level for him and do the right thing in his memory. And hopefully justice is done and hopefully they get the suspect, because that's sad for something like that to happen on campus for a kid that's a college kid doing the right thing, going to school and being a great student-athlete.
FanHouse: Getting back to something a little more light-hearted – Twitter has invaded professional sports and the NBA was definitely at the forefront of that. But unless I'm mistaken, I haven't found a Twitter account for you yet.
Butler: I'm not on Twitter.
FanHouse: Is that something you plan on trying out?
Butler: I'm cool. (Laughing)
FanHouse: People don't need to know that much about you?
Butler: No, I'm fine, man. (Laughing)
FanHouse: I was thinking of things that would have blown up on Twitter in the past, two years ago when you went to that kid's birthday party – maybe you do that all the time, maybe this was just the time it got in the news. But have you been to any birthday parties lately for your fans?
Butler: Not lately, not lately. (Laughing) I actually moved out of that neighborhood – I'm kind of in the boonies now by myself – but I was staying in a cul-de-sac close to a lot of people and a lot of residents knew that I was in the neighborhood and I used to get invites to things all the time. And I always went, I always did the right thing, I went and had a great time with people, so it was just funny coincidence that [it made news] – I was at a birthday party just having a good time, watching basketball, eating pizza. (Laughing) It was crazy.
FanHouse: Last thing, I was wondering what your thoughts were about Flip Saunders coming in. He obviously had a lot of success with the Pistons and it seems like the team has clicked a little bit with him. What are your impressions of him so far?
Butler: He's great. He's an offensive genius. He's a great coach to play for and I love him for numerous reasons but the one that really stuck out was him coming in the summer and reaching out to me. I've never had a coach do that. You know, you get the phone calls saying, "welcome to our team, great having you, look forward to coaching you," but he actually was a guy that came out with me on numerous occasions and told me expectations that he placed upon me and what he expected and I look forward to the challenge.
FanHouse: I was reading that he said that he learned a bit from his time in Detroit in going and making sure that he did all that and meeting all the players. Did you have any expectations about him coming in or was it a blank slate, you didn't know what to expect.
Butler: It was blank. I heard so many things from KG and Sam Cassell about he's a great guy to play for, but everybody has to experience everything on their own, and I was just waiting for the opportunity to meet him and feel him out, and it's been great. So far, so good, it's been unbelievable.
FanHouse: For a guy who can do what he can do with offense, it's got to be pretty exciting to pair him with the talent on your team.
Butler: We've got a very versatile team, and to have somebody with an offensive mindset like him who knows what to do with it, I think it's going to be great. I'm looking forward to the season.