OKLAHOMA CITY — Birthdays present the perfect time to reflect on the past and look toward the future. It’s especially true for Caron Butler, who celebrates his 34th birthday today as a happy new member of the Oklahoma City Thunder following an unpredictable upheaval of a summer in which he was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Phoenix Suns and then to his hometown Milwaukee Bucks.
In his 12th season, Butler’s career has certainly taken a winding path since the Washington Wizards traded him to the Dallas Mavericks at the 2010 deadline. He won a ring with the Mavs in 2011 although he watched it all behind the scenes while he relentlessly rehabbed — but could never make it back — from a gruesome knee injury earlier in the season.
The quest to make another championship run was at the root of Butler’s request for a buyout from the foundering Bucks. Then, in another unexpected turn, Butler chose to head west to join Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City when so many seemed to believe he would go east with LeBron James and the Miami Heat, the team that drafted him 10th overall in 2002.
Butler sat down with NBA.com following Tuesday’s Thunder victory against the Houston Rockets in which he contributed salty defense, 11 points (including three 3-pointers) and five rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench. In four games with the Thunder, Butler has helped fill the void left by injured starting shooting guard and defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha.
NBA.com: First off, you’ve only played in 38 games between Milwaukee and Oklahoma City. How is your health?
CB: I had a bad ankle sprain earlier in the season so that bothered me a little bit. But coming here and getting in a routine really helped.
NBA.com: A lot of people seemed to think you would go to Miami. Why did you choose OKC?
CB: I’m playing. I looked at it as an opportunity to play and play for a great organization. I looked at the pieces and I knew that I fit in with this group.
NBA.com: Thunder head athletic trainer Joe Sharpe held a similar position at UConn when you played there. Was that a factor in your decision?
CB: It had a lot to do with it. He took care of me a lot at the University of Connecticut, so to link back up with him, I knew I was in good hands from a physical standpoint.
NBA.com: You moved your family to L.A. and then Phoenix to Milwaukee. Will they come with you to Oklahoma City?
CB: It was an easy move to Milwaukee because I already had a house there, about 10 minutes away from the practice facility. They’re staying there. The kids are in school and everything. They never got in school in Phoenix.
NBA.com: What does it means to be on a team considered a favorite to get to the NBA Finals, and this time, knock on wood, be able to compete?
CB: It means a lot. Looking back at so many opportunities in my career and great organizations I played for, to be healthy and to be going into this run means a whole lot. I’m going to give whatever I have physically, mentally, to put us over the hump and just keep us moving forward. I love the position we’re in and I’m excited about the future.
NBA.com: How do you view the 2011 title? You got the ring, but didn’t play that season after the Jan. 1 knee injury.
CB: It felt good, but at the same time that was one that I got obviously when I wasn’t healthy. You know I got the No. 2 on my [Thunder] jersey — I’m chasing No. 2. It would mean a lot to be a part of this team and this young group. That’s what it’s about, winning. Obviously we don’t talk about championship and everything, but it would mean a lot to me just to be on that stage.
NBA.com: You’ve come in and averaged 26.8 mpg. Any surprise that you’ve garnered that playing time so quickly?
CB: Unfortunately Thabo went down. When I signed, he went down the next day so it was just a situation where coach put me in the rotation coming off the bench and there was a need for a little experience out there.
NBA.com: Was your production in the win against the Rockets Tuesday indicative of what you think you can deliver: defensive intensity, 3-point shooting, a little rebounding?
CB: I’m just going to be aggressive on the defensive end, space the floor; obviously they’ve got a great thing and a great chemistry and I’m just finding my way and trying to do the little things that matter.
NBA.com: It’s only been four games, but what’s it like to play with Kevin Durant?
CB: Him and Russell [Westbrook], man, they’re amazing. I played with some great players and he’s one of the best scorers I’ve ever played with. And you know he’s a willing passer, too. That says a lot about him at this point of his career, a young guy who’s a superstar that is willing to pass the ball and make other people better. Now, at this point in his career, that’s amazing.