UPDATE: Audio of Butler posted below after the jump.
RICHMOND -- Every year since he became a Washington Wizard, Caron Butler has done something to improve his game and his body. Three summers ago, he cut out a lot of his poor dietary habits and became an all-star. Two summers ago, he changed his shooting form and developed some three-point range.
What's the goal this summer? Butler says it's to become a much better defensive player, specifically the type of defender that can be relied upon to stop the other teams' top opposing threat.
"I'm trying to get accustomed to the offense and learn the offense, but my main focus is trying to be the best defensive player I can possibly be," Butler said after practice today. "I'm going to have a lot of key assignments this year that I look forward to."
Butler said his motivation is coming partially from himself and partially from Flip Saunders. Butler admitted that declaring a renewed commitment to defense is nothing new for him, but he also said he came more prepared this time around. He dropped 10 pounds from his playing weight last season, mostly because he cut out Mountain Dew and improved his diet.
One change was a simple one: actually eat breakfast. Butler said he wasn't a big breakfast guy in the past, often skipping it, but he now eats breakfast regularly ("oatmeal and egg whites") and now sticks to a pretty standard three-meal-a-day system. He said his changes have shown themselves early on in training camp.
"This is one of the most intense training camps I've been a part of, [but] I feel fresh," Butler said. "A lot of people are saying, 'Man, I feel sluggish today, legs feel like jello,' but I feel pretty good."
Butler said he switched his routine because he's getting older and needs to take better care of himself, but it also helped that he didn't have to get over an injury. He struggled down the stretch in 2005/06 with a broken thumb, missed the close of the 2006/07 season with a broken hand and was limited in 2007/08 with a hip flexor, but he ended last year healthy and said it helped his offseason routine.
"Last summer was the first summer I went through without a lot of aches and bruises," Butler said, referring to the summer that just passed. "The prior summers, I always had to nurse something, whether it was a broken hand or making sure my hip was okay before I trained too hard, or groin strains."
As much as Butler may have pushed himself, though, Saunders was also pushing him. Saunders saw a player in the past that had all the tools to be a good defender, but didn't have the right mindset. He told Butler about it and Butler, so far, has listened.
"I talked to him and told him he had the ability to be an all-league defensive player," Saunders said. "He's relied a lot on going to get steals and gambling a little bit, so I told him to be a bit more of a meat and potatoes type of defensive player. He's taking that challenge and has put a lot of effort into that end."
In return (or in addition), Saunders has provided Butler and the rest of the team a defensive system that Butler said is "real simple," as compared to the last few years, when Butler said "there was a lot of confusion."
"Usually, our defensive scheme left us on islands," Butler said. "You'll be out there, and [someone will say], 'You, on that weak side, you got Kobe [Bryant].' [And I'm like] 'Where the help at?' [and they'd say] 'I mean, you got him.' Now, I know where to push him. I know where my help is coming from."
It's worth noting that this talk is nothing new, not for Butler and not for the team. Save for a brief stretch in 2007/08 under Randy Ayers, the defense hasn't even been mediocre, and Butler has been one of the guys who hasn't performed as well as he could defensively. But Butler is adamant that this year is different for him, which would be great news for Wizards fans.
"Usually, I'd take the [top] matchup because it's given to me," Butler said. "Now, I'm really keying in, focusing in and studying the matchup."