The signing of Caron Butler by Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings was one of, if not the only move the Kings made this offseason that was universally praised by local and national media. It’s not hard to understand why.
For a team as rudderless as the Kings were at the time, convincing a veteran like Butler, who has every right to title chase at this point in his career, to sign with the Kings seemed totally unrealistic. It’d be easy to point towards the player option the Kings gave Butler for next season as the reason why he chose Sacramento over a title contender (Bulls, Clippers, and Spurs had interest), but I don’t know that Caron actually needed that leverage for next season. Considering his status as an NBA veteran with playoff and championship experience, you’d think he wouldn’t have trouble finding one-year deals until he decided to retire, but it’s hard to say from the outside. Maybe job security was that important to him, or maybe his prior relationship with Divac and Peja Stojakovic was enough to seal the deal, I suppose it doesn’t really matter, anyway. He’s here.
His contributions off the court and in the locker room have been well documented. Tuff Juice is going to make a difference there, I have no doubt about that, but can he still play? Will he play? He’s 35 years old, and at that age, on-court production can fall off a cliff before you even know it. With that said, the best we can do is look at what he provided the Detroit Pistons with last season, and what I found was sort of interesting.
Beyond his three-point shooting and experience, there probably isn’t a good reason to play Caron Butler at this stage of his career. That’s perfectly fine, by the way. He’ll be making $1.5 million this season, and you can do much worse than three-point shooting and experience with that salary. Butler shot .379 from three last season, and that would place him above shooters like Ben McLemore, Marco Belinelli, and Darren Collison. In fact, the only player on the Kings roster who shot better from three last season than Caron Butler was Omri Casspi. That is both depressing in that the Kings have been such a poor three point shooting team, and encouraging in that they got very inexpensive help in that area.
I’d even argue that Butler is a better three-point shooter than his solid numbers last season suggested.
He had a horrific January that coincided with a minor hamstring injury (those things can linger) and that really tanked his pre-All-Star break shooting numbers. Post-All-Star break, Butler shot an impressive .500 from three, and his offensive rating was a staggering 119 (insert small sample size caveat here, but that was higher than any King had last season). That is interesting for a couple of different reasons.
The more Butler played, the better he produced. The longer the season went on, the better he produced. That’s not necessarily normal for a 35 year old.
He started 21 games for the Pistons, and they won 11 of them. Not bad for a team that only won 32 games on the season. As a starter, Butler shot a ridiculous .547 from three, and had a 128 offensive rating. When he played over 30 minutes, he averaged 14.6 points, and 5 rebounds, shooting .500 from three with an offensive rating of 128 and was a +6.4. Plus/Minus is a bad stat, but I think it means a little bit more with context. The Pistons were not good, and Butler still produced.
If Butler is playing anything over 20 minutes per game for the Kings next season, something went horribly wrong. I’m not suggestion he should have a big role in George Karl’s regular rotation, but it’s nice to have that veteran insurance. If a rotational mainstay at either guard or forward has to miss a few weeks, which is inevitable, Butler can fill that gap. Stable depth has been an ongoing issue for the Kings. One injury to an important piece, and everything falls apart. We saw it with Darren Collison last season. We’ve seen it in the frontcourt with DeMarcus Cousins, etc. Players are going to miss time, and it looks like maybe, just maybe, Divac has given this team enough depth to survive while players recover.
It’s worth noting that Butler hasn’t played less than 20 minutes per game in a single season for his entire 13-year career. We have good reason to believe that his streak will end this season, but he clearly comes into every season prepared and ready to play.
On most nights, he’ll provide the Kings with a legitimate ability to spread the floor off the bench, and on the rare occasion that Karl needs more out of the veteran, he’ll be ready to go.