HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — Eric Bledsoe, the 23-year-old point guard brimming with star potential, won the headlines in the Phoenix Suns’ July trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. But it might be the veteran in the deal, 33-year-old forward and by far the club’s elder statesmen, Caron Butler, who proves most valuable in this important transitional season for a franchise on the skids.
Troubled power forward Michael Beasley is the poster child for everything that’s gone wrong in Phoenix. He was a disgrace on the floor last season, his first after the Suns’ former front-office decision-makers gift-wrapped him a three-year, $18-million contract, and continues to be an embarrassment off it.
Investigated for sexual assault in May, Beasley was arrested two weeks ago when officers detected pot after pulling him over for speeding. The franchise has not publicly addressed this latest disappointment. The fact is they have two choices: Wipe their hands of him and eat the remaining $9 million he’s guaranteed, or somehow try to help the self-destructive former No. 2 pick, just 24, whose career, and potentially a life outside of prison, is hanging by the threads of a frayed shoelace.
“I think there’s a lot that can be done to help him and I think one is, and this is not from the organization or anything, but it’s just for the people who are around him and love him most, is just don’t give up on him, try to help him as much as possible, build him up because he’s a star,” Butler told NBA.com during a phone interview from his new home in Phoenix. “He’s a guy that had an unbelievable collegiate career, who came into the NBA as a top-two pick, so the talent is there, it hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s like clay, it just needs to be molded right. Somebody needs to be around him, talking to him and telling him the right things and building him up and keeping nothing but positive energy around him and moving him forward instead of pulling him back.”
Butler, a raging success story born out of an unsavory childhood, was arrested numerous times before he turned 15. He said if if the 6-foot-10, 235-pound Beasley remains with the team, Butler will stick by the Beasley’s side and mentor him.
“I would stay in his ear, I would definitely stay in his ear,” Butler said. “I would continue to motivate him and I would challenge him night-in and night-out, in practice, just whatever I can do to make him better I would do as a human being, and obviously as a basketball player because I think he has tremendous upside still. He’s just 24 years old.”
It’s hardly the role the 6-foot-7 small forward envisioned prior to July 10. Butler was at his offseason home in Washington D.C. with his wife and three young daughters when he received a phone call from his agent. He had been traded. Only a couple of weeks earlier Butler was ecstatic at the news that the Clippers had pulled off the deal to nab Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a move that would cinch Chris Paul‘s return and fire up championship hype. Then came the unsuspecting call from his agent that he and Bledsoe were headed to the 25-win Suns.
Butler soon saw the news on the crawl on TV. No one from the Clippers’ front office has called him, Butler said.
“I don’t leave with bitterness or anything, but a phone call would have helped the situation,” said Butler, who two summers ago signed a three-year, $24 million free-agent deal to play for the Clippers before the club’s fortuitous, franchise-changing trade for CP3. “But it’s cool, it’s no hard feelings because that’s the nature of the business.
“It’s a fun team to watch,” Butler continued. “Up-and-down tempo, you look at the high flyers of Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and you’ve got a magician with the ball in Chris Paul. You got shooters around them, you got J.J. Redick, and a great coach and a great coaching staff. You look at that and that’s real appealing, and that’s Hollywood.”
With that potential storybook season fading to black, Butler quickly moved his family to Phoenix where he’s been working out in preparation for the start of training camp roughly still five weeks away. In July, he spent a week in Las Vegas during the NBA’s Summer League with a handful of veterans, including Andre Iguodala, participating an NBA Players Association leadership program. The intensive course ran eight hours a day and provided players who might have front-office aspirations with a comprehensive look inside the business, from the fine print of the collective bargaining agreement to formulating scouting reports on teams and players.
The week in Vegas also provided Butler a chance to have dinner with his new coach, Jeff Hornacek, and to mingle with — and scout — several of his new teammates that played on the summer team (one of his leadership program assignments was to scout the Suns players and coaches during a game), including Markieff Morris, Marcus Morris, P.J. Tucker, Kendall Marshall and promising draft pick Archie Goodwin.
“I just saw a lot of potential,” said Butler, who slyly deferred when asked for his summation of Hornacek’s performance: “I can’t share that.”
So this new chapter isn’t CP3, Griffin, Doc and the Lob City thrill show he expected in the final year of his contract. But then Butler seems to possess a deeper perspective as he prepares for his 12th season with a sixth team.
“I look at it as a situation in which I look at my life, I look at my timeline, and one, a lot of people didn’t even have me here [in the NBA], and a lot of people didn’t have me here this long,” said Butler, who averaged 10.4 ppg last season and will likely see his career-low 24.1 mpg rise in Phoenix. “And to have the success that I have and still maintain my humbleness and still be the person that I am, that speaks volumes.
“So whatever comes my way, I take it in stride and I just keep moving forward. So it is what it is and I’m going to make the best out of the situation that I’m in now.”
And just maybe the Suns organization is hopeful that Beasley can learn from a man who has walked in shoes not much different from his own.