- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Of all the compliments paid Caron Butler this season, the most telling came from Washington Wizards teammate Antawn Jamison.

“When he comes off the bench, everything about the game is elevated,” Jamison said. “Anytime you bring a guy off the bench and the game is elevated on both ends of the court, you know that’s not something that’s normal in this league.”

Butler’s play has helped the Wizards to a 5-1 start — the second-best record in the NBA and the club’s best mark after six games since 1989 — as they hit the road for six of their next seven games and 13 of their next 19.

Tonight in Cleveland, Washington will face ex-teammate Larry Hughes and the Cavaliers. Hughes averaged 22 points last season and was instrumental in the Wizards’ run to the playoffs. And if the big question in the offseason was how to replace Hughes, Butler has been a big part of the answer.

Butler and Chucky Atkins were acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers for disappointing center Kwame Brown and Laron Profit in a trade that looks like a steal so far.

Butler easily made the adjustment to his new team — his third in four seasons — and the Wizards are reaping the benefits. Butler started in Los Angeles, where he was the Lakers’ second-leading scorer, and in Miami, where he finished third in rookie of the year balloting in 2002. But in Washington, Butler graciously has accepted a reserve role.

Rather than complain about playing time, Butler — through his performance — simply has made it impossible for coach Eddie Jordan to keep him off the floor. Butler, who can play big guard or small forward, ranks third on the team in scoring (17.8), rebounding (5.5) and assists (3.8).

Butler, Gilbert Arenas (28.5 points) and Jamison (20.3 points) are combining for an average of 66.6 a game. That number is just a tad shy of the 67.1 the Big Three of Arenas, Jamison and the departed Hughes averaged last season.

Arenas said yesterday he already is more than satisfied with the team’s biggest summer acquisition — though he still speaks respectfully of Brown, who is averaging 6.3 points and 5.8 rebounds for the Lakers.

“I think it’s a smart basketball decision, looking at it now,” Arenas said. “[Brown is] having a hard time adjusting to Kobe [Bryant], which everybody knew was going to happen.”

Arenas said Butler twice had been in difficult situations, and each time resulted in his being traded. However, Butler learned how to fit in, mixing his skills with Dwyane Wade in Miami and Bryant in Los Angeles, Arenas said.

“Caron had to fit in with Miami. And in Los Angeles, it was Kobe’s world, and he still fit in,” Arenas said. “So essentially he’s been adapting no matter what the situation was. Those are the kind of players you need. And even though he’s not starting he’s getting the same opportunities he got before.”

Butler’s positive attitude, in addition to the fact he can flat-out play, appears to be one of the reasons he has worked out so well already.

When the Wizards recently gave him a five-year extension worth close to $50million, Butler was as gracious to the team as any professional player. He was the same way yesterday, gushing about how great it is to be a part of the Wizards.

“It meant a lot,” Butler said of the extension. “It showed their commitment to me, and I want to show my commitment to them. I don’t want to be a problem in any way; I want to be a solution in everything. If they want a little more leadership, then I want to provide that. I feel like it is my job and my obligation to do that and anything else they want from me.”

Butler says he is starter material, and no one in the organization doubts that. But those expecting to hear him whining about the issue will be disappointed. Last year he was a part of a Lakers team that missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994, and he’s not happy about watching spring basketball from his home.

“Coach is very aware that I’m a starter, and I’m very aware of that, too,” Butler said. “But we’re going to win games with me coming off the bench. I’m not going to worry about that. I’m just going to do what I need to do.”

Note — The Wizards assigned second-year center Peter John Ramos to their NBDL affiliate, the Roanoke Dazzle. The 7-foot-3 Ramos, 20, was selected with the 32nd overall pick in the 2004 draft. The NBDL season begins Friday.

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