In contemplative moments some Washington Wizards fans say there is a trade they wish they could have a do-over on — the July 1996 four-player deal that sent Rasheed Wallace to Portland for Rod Strickland.
The two other players in the trade — Portland’s Harvey Grant and the Bullets’ Mitchell Butler — were mere afterthoughts and became answers to trivia questions for NBA buffs. In fact, it’s safe to say Wizards fans haven’t given Butler much of a thought since he was shipped to Portland.
That is until now.
After a training camp marked by non-stop hustle, scrapping and cajoling of the young players on the roster, it looks as if prodigal son Butler will return to Washington.
“Mitchell Butler is, in my mind, going to be on this team,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “He’s been a big surprise to me.”
If the 6-foot-5, 216-pound Butler makes the team it will be a testament to hard work, determination and a great attitude that he has maintained wherever he’s played.
Butler made Washington’s roster as an un-drafted rookie in 1993. He earned a reputation on bad teams as a scrapper. He was a guy with decent skills who provided a positive attitude in the locker room.
After three years with Washington, the Portland deal brought an end to Butler’s stable career. Since then he’s had two seasons in Cleveland and a pair of failed tryouts in Indiana. He played in Lithuania and, most recently, played a key role in guiding the 2002-03 Yakima Sun Kings to the their third consecutive CBA title.
That was enough to get Butler noticed by the Wizards scouting department and earn him another NBA tryout.
“Things just kind of shook out in the summer and I ended up bouncing right back here,” the 32-year-old said. “It’s funny how things work. This is a great opportunity to get a chance to come back here where it all started. If it’s going to end for me, I couldn’t think of a better place for it to end.”
Although he is just 6-5, Butler is a small forward who can play some big guard. He recognized the Wizards’ roster was top-heavy with young forwards — rookie Jarvis Hayes, the 10th pick in the 2003 draft, and last season’s No.11 overall pick, Jared Jeffries, who sat out all of last season with a knee injury.
Add Jerry Stackhouse, who is nursing a knee injury but at the moment not expected to miss any of the regular season, and it was obvious minutes at small forward would be limited for someone like Butler. However, he assessed the situation and believed Washington would be a good fit for him.
“It’s one of those situations where I think if you come in and you demonstrate that you’re willing to work hard, show leadership and play hard then it doesn’t matter,” Butler said. “They’ll find a way to get you out on the court.
“My goal is to just give this team some positive minutes. That’s just the way that I look at it. I’m going to try and lead. There are a lot young guys on this team that are gifted and talented and they are going to need some direction.”