ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — The homecoming of Caron Butler hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. Brought in to play a major role, Butler has seen his playing time slip and become inconsistent.
It’s easy to see why, as the Bucks plans have changed drastically since trading for Butler. The team was hoping to compete for the playoffs this season but quickly have their sights set on the future. Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken over as the starting small forward and Khris Middleton has emerged at the position.
Butler understands all of this, but he still sees himself as a player that can contribute more than he is now.
"I knew it was going to be a process to win, but me as a basketball player and as a competitor, the information I received before coming here was, ‘You are going to play a lot,’" Butler said after practice Thursday. "And I want to play. I want to be out there to help the situation. If we are developing on the fly — and I know Giannis has to play, guys have to play — but there are a lot of ways those guys can play and we still can be out there and developing those guys as well.
"Coach understands that. I’ve talked to him. He’s been more than helpful. Mr. Hammond and everyone. I know it’s process and we’ll get through it. There’s a lot of season to go. Hopefully something turns for the better for the team and particularly for myself."
Bucks coach Larry Drew said he has met with both Butler and his agent, Raymond Brothers, in recent weeks. Drew said he will continue to look at the matchups to determine when Butler plays and doesn’t want to put him out there against some of the quicker or more athletic guards or forwards.
He hopes Butler will be able to adapt to playing as a small power forward against teams that go small.
"I understand his unhappiness about his playing time, and I explained the situation to him and explained the situation to his representative," Drew said. "I think right now there’s a level of commitment to certain players as far as playing time. For any of the guys, if they are not happy with their playing time, they are going to have to contact our front office, John Hammond and those guys, and talk to them about it.
"If there’s unhappiness there, I guess they are going to have to do something."
Butler is one of a few veterans who have lost playing time to younger players. O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour and Butler were either signed as free agents or traded for in an effort to add veterans to the roster.
They all expected to play, but then again, the Bucks didn’t expect to be in total look-ahead mode before the All-Star Break.
"This is a small market," Butler said. "This is home for me but it’s not home for a lot of people. You have to make it attractive for free agents to come to a market like this. If a hometown guy can’t be happy here, who will come here?
"I’ve never been one to not express myself or bite my tongue. I have a lot of friends in the NBA, and I express myself. As of now I’m happy and I want to be here, but I’m going to continue to express myself. I’m going to assess it as it goes along."
Unlike some veterans who don’t play around the league, Butler hasn’t been a negative influence in the Bucks locker room. In fact, he’s been more than willing to take younger players like Antetokounmpo under his wing and offer guidance.
Butler said he’s taken on more of a comedian role this year to try to lighten the mood in a locker room that’s been down more often than not.
"I always try to find the positives in every situation," Butler said. "There’s a few positives. One, you are helping young guys develop on the fly. But is it about developing or is it about winning? Two, I’m home. That’s a positive. But the other twist to that is, when you are home you want to play. You have a lot of supporters and a lot of people that want to see you out there. It just adds on to your legacy as a player and as a competitor.
"That being said, it’s kind of a Catch-22. You are in a iffy situation, but I have a job to do and I take my job seriously. I want to just come in and get better as a player and a mentor and continue to say positive things and let that spread."
A native of Racine, Wis., Butler is averaging 10.4 points and 4.9 rebounds per game while shooting 36.1 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. His field-goal percentage is the lowest in his 12-year career, but his 25.0 minutes per game is actually up from the 24.1 he averaged last season with the Clippers.
Butler is averaging the exact same points per game as he did last year, but he started all 78 games he played in for Los Angeles. His playing time has slipped to 23.8 minutes per game in December and 17.3 minutes per game in six January games.
"You just want to play a role in the process and help win," Butler said. "This is home for me. Some people work here and go away, like, I work here and live here. I want to see this place succeed more than anybody. I put a lot on myself and I try to do all the little things to help out with the process. That’s what it’s all about."
Butler could be a candidate to be traded as the Feb. 20 trade deadline approaches, but his expiring contract of $8 million is a valuable asset to the Bucks. They would be hard pressed to get much back since they won’t be looking to take on any salary in exchange.
"I know that I’ll be in a good situation because it can’t get any worse," Butler said. "If something was to happen, I know I’ll be going somewhere pretty good. I’m ready to compete at a high level. I’m definitely well-rested. I’m healthy and I feel good."
The veteran made it clear that he isn’t looking to end his NBA career anytime soon and wants to continue to play past this season and still thinks it can be in Milwaukee.
"Ideally I want to play a few more years, particularly I would love to stay here," Butler said. "I’ve expressed that to the Senator (Herb Kohl) and to management before even coming here. This wasn’t supposed to be a visit, it was supposed to be stay a couple of years and exit out the right way.
"I feel that way in my heart. I mind the losing, but I understand it’s a process. I understand we’ll be a lot better next year. We still want to develop guys and get a lot better this year as well."
Butler also admitted it’s been tough for the current players to deal with the constant talk of the upcoming draft and so many people looking ahead.
"You should never look ahead because those things just don’t happen like that," Butler said. "I mean, teams that look ahead and lose games intentionally or even unintentionally, that’s not the way to go about it because there’s no sure thing. You can lose games and get the seventh pick. You are playing with fire either way."