DETROIT (AP) Perhaps more than any other member of the Detroit Pistons, Caron Butler has an idea of what to expect this season from new coach Stan Van Gundy.
”A winning culture,” Butler said. ”Instilling the right way to play.”
Butler played for Van Gundy in Miami a decade ago, when both player and coach were just starting their careers. Butler was traded by the Heat after the 2003-04 season – in the deal that sent Shaquille O’Neal from the Los Angeles Lakers to Miami – but after bouncing around the league for a while he ended up in Detroit, reunited with Van Gundy.
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The Pistons hired Van Gundy this offseason to be their coach and team president. They play their first home game under him Saturday night against Brooklyn.
Butler signed with Detroit during the offseason. The Pistons are his eighth NBA team.
”This is my second go-around with coach Van Gundy, and I like what I’m seeing,” Butler said earlier this week. ”I know these guys are thirsty to win. … You have all the talent and young core in place.”
Butler gives Van Gundy high marks for his honesty, which has already been on display this season in the form of his blunt assessment of Thursday night’s loss to Minnesota. Butler scored 24 points in that game, but Van Gundy called the team’s third quarter ”inexcusable” and said he was worried about the mental state of his team.
This was after only two games – both losses.
Van Gundy has been pulling no punches, and that’s pretty much what Butler expected.
”I know he’s going to push me,” Butler said. ”I know he’s going to not let me settle.”
Butler’s success story is one of the game’s most remarkable. He grew up in a rough neighborhood in Racine, Wis., was arrested over a dozen times before he was 15 – and spent 14 months in a state prison. That incarceration helped change his life. After being released at age 16, he was a more mature person, and his basketball career eventually flourished.
After two seasons as a collegiate star at Connecticut, Butler was drafted by the Heat with the 10th overall pick in 2002.
”People just don’t realize what I’ve been through,” he said. ”I don’t take this for granted.”
With his fascinating life story, Butler can serve as a fine example for younger players, but he’s also a solid contributor on the court. He’s averaged at least 10 points a game in all but one of his NBA seasons.
The Pistons badly needed to improve their perimeter shooting, and if Butler can help in that regard, it should be a boost to Detroit’s impressive interior trio of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith. In a season-opening loss at Denver, Butler was held scoreless, but he bounced back against Minnesota, shooting 10 of 14 from the field and making four 3-pointers.
At 34, Butler is the oldest player on Detroit’s roster, and he’s already given some thought to life after the NBA. He enjoys talking to kids and sharing his life experiences, and he says he’d also like to be involved in the business side of basketball when he retires.
He’s in no rush to stop playing, though.
”I’m going to play until I can’t be effective,” Butler said. ”Any given night I can drop 20 on you.”