Caron Butler, a two-time All-Star and 2002-03 All-Rookie beside Amare Stoudemire, has enjoyed a long and fruitful NBA career that includes reaching the playoffs in three of his past four seasons and six times in 12 years. Butler's role on veteran playoff teams has diminished of late, including career lows in minutes-per-game the last two seasons with the Clippers (29.9 and 24.7 mpg).
Now with the Phoenix Suns, Butler is being viewed as the team's mentor and leader on the court.
As his career winds down, Butler now finds himself traded to a rebuilding team that needs a mentor more than anything else he can provide on the court. And Butler is all-in with that plan.
"I feel great," he said of the change. "I think it's a great role and place for me. I'm a strong believer in God putting you in situations and spots for a reason. It's my time to be here. I'm going to make the best of it, win games and shed some light on this thing and set the winning culture."
Butler has long been known for his toughness and professionalism and has seen a lot of success. Chris Paul recently glowed about Butler's toughness in the playoffs, playing through obvious pain to make a difference in a playoff win. The Suns will need that toughness and leadership if they are going to stay positive in an otherwise difficult environment.
Surrounded by a host of former Suns players and 2,500 fans at the new uniform reveal, Butler was pumped up by the experience. He was shocked that so many Suns fans would show up at the Fashion Square for a chance to see the new uniforms and cheer on Suns players in the middle of August.
"They got a great support system here," he said. "They love their Suns. I want to go to the gym right now. That's very inspiring. You just get goosebumps all over when you see the fans coming out for something as simple as revealing the jersey, getting excited for the season that's just around the corner."
The Suns set up shop just outside Barney's at the Scottsdale Fashion Square with a runway, cameras, media section and VIP seating. On top of that, thousands of fans stood on the periphery to catch a glimpse of the spectacle. Fans even congregated on the level above, looking down on the action from a distance.
Bright Side of the Sun, for its part, had as many page views and comments as a late-season Gamethread from fans watching the live streaming on Suns.com. Considering this all happened in mid-August with training camp six weeks away, the turnout was amazing.
A spectacle, it was.
Asked which former Suns players Butler enjoyed meeting the most, he immediately said the charismatic Tom Chambers, who earlier walked the runway in his original Suns jersey from the early 90s but declined to don the short shorts.
Butler has been meeting former Suns players all month, after he moved here to get his kid enrolled in school and get into the gym early in preparation for a very important season for him.
"I've been in the gym shooting with Mark [West, now a Suns assistant coach] and a couple other guys," he said. "They accepted me with open arms. I'm happy to be here with this organization and I look forward to the season."
Several former Suns stars, still with the organization in some capacity, got to show off their old uniforms on the runway. Dick Van Arsdale (1968-77), Alvan Adams (1975-88), Eddie Johnson (1987-91), Tim Kempton (1992), along with Mark West (1987-94, 99-00), and Tom Chambers (1988-93). Only Eddie Johnson flashed the short shorts from those days.
"Wow," was all Caron Butler would say about Eddie afterward, shaking his head the whole time. "That's a man. Wow. Wow."
It was great to see those former Suns come back to participate in the event, and to remember just how many former players are still in the organization today. Kudos to the Suns for setting this up. Lon Babby said last spring that the Suns would do more to honor their past, and they certainly did that on Thursday night.
"I'm already feeling it," he said when asked. "One of the reasons I came down extremely early, I wanted to get a month in with those guys (trainers)."
And like Nash and Hill before him, he knows it's his responsibility to get the rest of the guys into the gym as quickly as possible.
"After labor day weekend hopefully the guys will come back," he said. "We'll send out a group text to get the guys here in the gym early and we'll start doing some workouts together to get this thing rolling so we become more familiar with one another."
While Butler has fully embraced the Valley, its potential fountain of youth, and the prospect of being a leader on a team that needs leaders, young point guard Eric Bledsoe is still beating to his own drum.
"I told [Eric] after labor day I would love to see him," Butler said. "I'm going to stay on him. You know he's my wild card. We'll get him here."
Bledsoe is currently working out on his own in Alabama while hanging with family. Paul Coro has a nice article on what Bledsoe told us of his summer routine to up his game and try to fulfill that "something special" label that many NBA players have put on him, including LeBron James just last week.
Asked when he was coming to the Valley for good, Bledsoe sounded like he wasn't yet convinced he needed to get in town as early as Butler wants him here.
"Some time next month," Bledsoe replied. "Coming in probably early, a week or two before training camp."
That would be mid-September or late September, about the time that Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat will be finishing up Eurobasket 2013. And long after the rest of the guys will likely be hitting the court together.
It will be interesting to see how peer pressure works on Bledsoe, and when (if) he takes on a leadership role with the Suns this coming year. A few years ago, I remember Steve Nash and Grant Hill rallying the troops in late August and having so much fun that Jared Dudley cut his training in Vegas short to get back to Phoenix for pickup games earlier than he'd planned. Maybe that will happen again here.
Expect the Suns to open the season with both Butler and Bledsoe in their starting lineup on the wings. If Butler can have an influence on the psyche of these young players, he can help the team survive what promises to be a tough season with a lot more losses than wins.