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Despite struggles, Caron Butler remains optimistic, undeterred

Every time I've talked to Caron Butler, I've come away struck by his supreme confidence.  Perhaps it has something to do with his deep voice, which makes you think he's Terry Mann from Field of Dreams. 

But while Gilbert Arenas is commonly known as the most confident player on the team, I submit that Butler takes the cake.  Talking to Arenas is like talking to someone who needs to reassure himself that he did the right thing.  He's the devious thinker, the guy who sees an imperfection where nobody else does and manically works to fix it.  He may not always succeed, but he's always trying.  Butler, however, is always steady, always sure of himself.  He doesn't need to resort to bravado to prove himself to, well, himself.  He just plugs along, seeing the bright side in everything and using his own lack of self-doubt to prop himself up.  Maybe it's a bit of an act, but Butler manages to come across publicly as someone who doesn't ever doubt himself.  Perhaps it's how he maintains the necessary inner confidence to succeed.

I talked to Butler for a while after the game (well, that's a bit unfair, Ric Bucher and I were trading off questions).  He had just come off yet another iffy shooting game (6-16), but judging from our discussion, you'd think a huge monkey had been lifted off his back.  Or maybe that's just Caron, confident as always.  Regardless, some excerpts below the jump:

It seemed to everyone that Caron played much better in the fourth quarter than in the first three.  I asked him what changed for him in that quarter as opposed to earlier on.

"I made shots.  Simple as that.  Shots were falling."

Okay, so maybe that's not much of an answer.  But that's Butler.  Always confident, always steady. 

However, one thing Butler did admit was that not having to guard LeBron James on defense gave him a little more energy to perform offensively. 

"Obviously, it's always great to play against one of the best players in the game, and you have to rise to that challenges.  On the defensive end, [that takes] a lot of energy.  At the same time, when DeShawn [Stevenson] came in, it relieved me a lot.  It allowed me to do some things on the offensive end, and I got into a good rhythm."

This is something that my own eyes have confirmed all season.  For all of Butler's offensive struggles, he has made much more of an effort on defense.  He's also playing nearly as many minutes as he did last year.  If you assume that, like any human basketball player, there's a limit to how much Butler can give in that time, then it's easy to conclude that he's dividing his available energy more evenly between offense and defense. 

I asked Butler about this later in the interview.  I noted to him that Flip Saunders has mentioned his desire for Butler to become a lockdown defender, and asked whether that desire has taken away from his offense at all.  Butler didn't think so.

"I am keying in on [defense], but I'm not getting away from my bread and butter, what I'm good at," he said.  "Getting out in transition, getting on the logo, drawing double teams and making plays."

It's clear that Butler thinks his struggles are simply a function of missing makeable shots.  Like I said, steady, confident, stubborn.  That's Caron.  It's what's made him an all-star.

Bucher asked Butler whether he's struggled to fit in as opposed to having the ball all the time. 

"I can pretty much adapt to any situation," Butler said.  "My offense will come.  Me being out there, coach playing me me 35 minutes plus, good things are going to happen for me on the offensive end."

Later, he added this:

"Me as a basketball player, I always find my way.  Coach knows that, the organization knows that.  I score in bunches.  Once I get in rhythm, I can put up 10-12 points fast, kind of like what I did tonight."

So what's stopped Butler thus far this season?  Is it positioning in the offense?  The return of Arenas?  If you ask Butler, it's the health of the other guys that has really held him back.  More than anyone on the team, Butler would say, Butler's a rhythm player.  He needs the other pieces to take pressure off him.  He needs to know exactly what his job is.  He can't have a ton of moving parts in and out of the lineup to perform at his best.  Sure, he performed when Arenas was out in 07/08, but he knew Arenas was going to be out.  This year, the Wizards haven't known who will play from game-to-game.  That's what's hurt Butler.

"My main thing as a basketball player is really trying to develop a good chemistry with us all out there.  That’s the main thing.  Because I’m used to having the ball so much, and because when Gilbert was out, Antawn, me and him carried the load pretty much.  Now, we’re trying to figure out how to be successful playing together.  It’s a work in progress."

I asked him if he was surprised things were taking as long as this for him and the team to come together.  I could sense that he wished that the pieces would just fall into place.  Still, he took my question in stride.

"Yeah.  Because, I'm telling you, the second we get some type of rhythm (he knocks on his locker), somebody goes down.  It's like, 'Alright man, we're clicking.'  Then, 'Boom,' something [happens].  It's tough."

As we've talked about before, Butler has historically been a guy who needed structure.  He needed structure when he was going to prison and needed his high school basketball coach to rescue his life.  He played for three screaming coaches -- Jim Calhoun, Pat Riley and Stan Van Gundy -- before coming to DC.  He was placed in inflexible roles.  Washington was the first place where he was asked to pave his own way.  He struggled with that initially, as that post suggests. 

Now, it appears Butler is resorting to staying medium for his own sake.  Here's hoping he develops the structure he needs now that everyone is back healthy.