- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

RICHMOND — Ask Caron Butler if he ever thought the term “well-traveled” would precede his name so early in his career, and he smiles.

“No, I didn’t,” said Butler, 25. “But I can say I’m happy that the route has taken me here.”

“Here” is with the Washington Wizards, not the Los Angeles Lakers, where he spent last season as Kobe Bryant’s understudy. Nor is it Miami, which drafted the 6-foot-7 swingman with the 10th pick in 2002.

Butler was among 17 players on hand yesterday as training camp opened at Virginia Commonwealth University. Camp runs through Sunday.

Early last week, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said Butler would immediately become a part of the Wizards “core group of scorers.” Butler, who last season averaged 15.5 points, is genuinely excited about landing in Washington. And though he is expected to fill the void created by Larry Hughes’ summer departure to Cleveland via free agency, Butler is not concerned with that now.

“I look at the situation in Washington, and it’s clear to me that there are a lot of areas where I can help,” said Butler, who averaged nearly 22 points in his final 15 games in Los Angeles last season.

Losing Hughes created a huge void on the defensive end, particularly in the passing lanes. Hughes, who averaged 22 points last season, led the league in steals (2.89).

Though nobody expects Butler to match Hughes in thefts, president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld and Jordan believe Butler’s addition — plus those of guards Antonio Daniels and Chucky Atkins — make this team deeper and more versatile than last year’s 45-37 squad, which posted the franchise’s best record in 26 seasons and won the organization’s first playoff series in 23 years.

Jordan envisions Butler playing at least three positions compared with the roles Hughes filled at both guard spots.

“You can see the things he brings to the floor,” Jordan said. “He drives to the basket. He’s very unselfish. He can make the extra pass. He’s got to be a better defensive player for us. He’s certainly going to cause matchup problems at three or four. And maybe we can swing him to a little bit of the two position.”

Considering what Butler has been through, getting acclimated to wherever the Wizards want to use him shouldn’t be that difficult.

At 14, Butler was caught with both a gun and cocaine in his possession, offenses that resulted in the Racine, Wis., native serving nine months in a juvenile detention center and another six in jail. He said he probably hit the low point — and the point that caused his remarkable turnaround — when he found himself in solitary confinement for 10 days following a fight.

Butler eventually got into Maine Central Institute, a prep school basketball powerhouse, where he played so well that Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun awarded him a scholarship.

After applying for the 2002 NBA Draft following his junior season, Butler shined with the Heat, averaging 15.4 points and 5.1 rebounds, good enough to finish third behind Amare Stoudemire and Yao Ming in NBA rookie of the year balloting.

But his chronic knee problems, along with the ascension of Dwyane Wade, made it easier for Miami to trade Butler, along with Lamar Odom and Brian Grant, to the Lakers in the summer of 2004. Though Odom and Grant voiced disappointment over the trade, Butler simply kept his mouth shut and played ball.

“That is the kind of person he is,” Atkins said. “He is just at the start of his career. He did the right thing, and now he’s where he would like to be.”

Well, not quite yet. Having missed the playoffs last season, Butler hopes to extend the Wizards’ playoff streak to two next spring.

“That is the goal,” Butler said. “I knew that as soon as I got here.”

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