The year was 2008, Game 5 of the Washington Wizards’ first-round match-up against frequent foe Cleveland Cavaliers. People probably forget about this game because the Wizards would ultimately lose the series, but for me, it cemented Caron Butler as my all-time favorite Wizard. In an elimination game where Gilbert Arenas was sidelined due to a knee injury (he was ruled out for the reminder of the playoffs prior to the game) and Antwan Jamison was a shell of himself, Butler took over scoring 32 points — to go along with 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals — including the game-winning lay up drive on LeBron James to force a Game 6. And that wasn’t even the game’s signature moment.
In the second quarter, late in the shot clock, Butler tried to pass the ball to Antonio Daniels in the corner before getting trapped in a double team at the top of the key. The ball was deflected out of his hands and was tossed in the air. Butler split the defenders, caught the ball as if he passed it to himself, and then heaved it at the basket before time expired. He scored. It was a beautiful mistake of a play, and I knew we were going to win the game.
That game/moment defined who Butler was in his prime: a fierce competitor who always played with passion, toughness, and with a chip on his shoulder. I mean, Eddie Jordan didn’t call him “Tuff Juice” for no reason. Gilbert Arenas was the star, Antwan Jamison was the captain, but Caron was the heart and soul of those teams in the mid 2000s. He only played in DC for five years, but what Butler and the rest of the Big Three did for this city will had a lasting impact. That era is now viewed as the good ole days; the city hasn’t been that electrified since. Which is why Butler should not only have his jersey hung up on the rafters alongside Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe, but he should retire a Wizard. In fact, he’s available now.
The Wizards missed out on the Kevin Durant and Al Horford sweepstakes this summer and settled for Ian Mahinmi plus other role players. They stocked up at every position except for small forward, putting an insurmountable amount of trust in Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre Jr. Quite frankly this should have everyone worried heading into next season. If there isn’t a top tier player or veteran there to help Porter and Oubre develop, the Wizards could be in trouble.
Unfortunately, all the best players are off the market so they will have to roll with a vet. Chase Budinger, Tayshaun Prince, and Lance Stephenson are a few available wing players left. Prince would be the ideal candidate to fill the savvy-veteran role— but wouldn’t you much rather see Caron Butler in a Wizards’ uniform again?
Butler not only has the advantage of being a beloved figure in Washington, but he has played for new Wizards’ head coach Scott Brooks after signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder late in the 2014 season. In only 22 games, Butler averaged 9.7 points in 27 minutes per game. He may be at the end of his career, but Butler can still can make a contribution on the floor. In his last two seasons, with the Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings, Butler shot 40 percent from the field including 38 percent from three-point range with the Pistons. Most importantly, Butler will be a key guy in the locker room. He will be a mature voice in the huddles and will help fuel the Wizard’s competitive drive, a trait that seemed non-existent at times last season.
However, if Ernie Grunfield decides not to bring him back next season or if he goes ring chasing with the Warriors, it would be awesome to see Caron Butler sign a one-day contract and retire a Washington Wizard. It’s one thing to play for one team, but to re-join a team that defined your career for a day just to retire is a heartwarming story. Imagine if Jerry Rice retired an Oakland Raider. Your last memory of the greatest wide-receiver of all-time would’ve been of him in a Raider’s uniform. It just wouldn’t feel right.
Well the same goes for Caron Butler (in my opinion at least). It wouldn’t seem right to see him end his career with any other team. He has bounced around the league his entire pro career. He became an All-Star and gave the Wizards five years of his best basketball, which is longer than any of his other eight teams. DC is essentially Butler’s second home and the city will always embrace him. No other fan base will show their appreciation for Butler like Wizard’s fans.
Grunfield hasn’t made many wise decisions as GM, but trading Kwame Brown for Caron is definitely one of them. Let’s hope Ernie makes the right call for once and brings “Tuff Juice” back home.