Phoenix Suns counting on Caron Butler for leadership and kick-out shooting

The Phoenix Suns introduced Caron Butler to the media as a key piece of the 2013-14 Suns, rather than a tradeable contract. Butler brings leadership, a professional attitude and quality outside shooting to a team in desperate need of all three.

While the Suns are talking about playing faster, and dreaming of a two-headed point guard pushing the ball down the court with ferocity, it's vitally important to have guys who can take and make the 3-pointer or jumper in the lane when the defense collapses on the ball handler.

In fact, the best fast break attacks are those that legitimately threaten the kick out 3, forcing the defense to hesitate before collapsing on the guy driving to the hoop.

Enter Caron Butler, who made nearly 40% of his 3-point attempts last season in a late-career renaissance as his own speed and agility decline after 11 years in the NBA.

"I'm just envisioning Eric and Goran pushing the ball up the court, creating those 4 on 3, 3 on 2 opportunities," Hornacek said at the press conference yesterday. "Caron's knocking down 3s and jumpshots, our bigs rolling to the basket."

Butler's best shooting percentages last season were from the corner 3 and elbow/wing 3, with his highest conversion rate earliest in the shot clock (55% when shooting in the first 10 seconds). With Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe handling the ball, Butler was used primarily as a catch-and-shoot guy by the Clippers. More than 80% of his shots were assisted.

In the half-court, Butler also provides an ability to take and make jumpers late in the clock, as his 54% conversion rate in the last 3 seconds of a shot clock attests (per 82games.com). The Suns really missed Grant Hill's ability to make a shot when the offense broke down last season, and now Butler can provide some semblance of that.

"When I was with the Celtics," McDonough said. "We had our good runs in the playoffs and he was a guy we were constantly trying to acquire. He made the All-Star team a few times and he's a great example for the young players in terms of how to be a pro, how to conduct yourself. So we're thrilled to have him as part of the Suns."

But before you get your hopes up too high, a 27 year old two-time All-Star isn't walking through that door. Butler is 32 years old now and showing his age. His lateral movement is dissipating, making him a turnstile on man-to-man defense. So Butler has adjusted.

Where Eric Bledsoe is a great on-ball defender who sometimes gets lost in team defensive concepts, Butler has made himself into a quality team defender who helps the overall results more than any individual accomplishments. The Clippers were nearly five points (per 100 possessions) better defensively with Butler on the floor last season.

As well, Butler's offense is declining as the years pile up. He is no longer a 20 ppg scorer who can fill it up from anywhere, fitting better as a 10-15 supplemental jump shooter these days. My brain wants to compare him to Vince Carter (the Mavs' Carter, not the Suns'), who provides veteran presence and occasional scoring outbursts for a Mavericks team that needed it.

What the Suns want from Butler is his leadership, and setting an example for the young kids. With the exodus of veterans Jermaine O'Neal and Jared Dudley already and the potential loss of Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola as well, the 2013-14 Suns might be in need of a good locker room presence.

"I'll just continue to do what I always have been doing throughout my career," Butler said of his expectations this season with the Suns. "Setting an example on and off the court - arriving to practice early and leaving late, talking to guys about basketball, life, family, everything, and just keeping the guys determined and dedicated and disciplined throughout the process. Just being a big brother and a shoulder that they can lean on.

"It's kind of being an extension of Coach in the locker room, being a guy that guys can come to and just vent out to and just help the process in the transition of changing this whole thing to a winning culture around here."

There was a great rift in last year's team that hindered any kind of development the front office hoped to see through a myriad of changes. The veteran leaders did not lead. They did not demand the attention of the youngsters, who appeared to believe they'd already arrived and didn't need to learn about how to be a pro.

"They taught me how to conduct myself on and off the court," Butler said of veterans he had around him when he was young. "They taught me about being a professional at all times and every time you walk out in this world, every day is a job interview. A good name is better than any silver or gold and that's something that I have."

Hopefully Butler's leadership, along with that of Hornacek's staff, will be more effective this season. He certainly knows how to crack a joke at the right moment.

"It was rather flattering to find out that the guy had a man-crush on me for so many years," Butler said of McDonough's long history of following Butler's game. "So once I found that out, I was extremely excited. Just coming here, he told me he had been following me for many years and what he expected out of me and I was definitely ready for that challenge."

Butler, for his part, doesn't simply want to be a locker room leader and coach. He is on the last year of his deal paying $8 million per year, and wants to earn another multi-year NBA contract that's becoming more and more elusive for declining players.

"I train hard in the offseason and there are certain things I want to be able to show and display out on the court," he said. "So I'll definitely have that opportunity here."

Even at his age, Butler is still better than 10 points per game for a team that needs his offense. And really, 32 is not that old. Jermaine O'Neal revived his career in Phoenix at age 34. Grant Hill and Steve Nash played at a high level through their late 30s. Recently re-signed and promoted Aaron Nelson needed a new challenge, and now he has one in Butler.

So while the press conference itself was a little subdued in terms of energy, I got the impression that both Butler and Bledsoe were excited to join the Suns, provided the culture is receptive to a winning mentality.

"We're going to bring a winning culture to this organization," Butler said. "And I'm really excited about this challenge ahead of us."

With every non-playoff Western team improving this offseason (Blazers, Kings, Pelicans) or at least trying to tread water (Lakers, Mavericks), the Suns have little hope for a vast improvement in wins next season. But that's not the primary goal. The primary goal is fixing the culture and attitude among all the players, setting them in the right direction and developing the kids into real NBA players.

Butler can only help in that regard.

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