With trade rumors swirling, Butler has best game

Michael Lee

Caron Butler’s name has been mentioned in trade rumors for almost a
year, and the talk has only intensified with the Feb. 18 trade deadline
less than two weeks away. He’s been rumored to be headed to Dallas, to
Houston, to the Los Angeles Clippers, to New Jersey, to Portland, to
"I’m popular," Butler said with a smile after scoring a season-high 31 points, including the game-winning jumper with 0.5 seconds remaining, against the Orlando Magic on Friday. "I’ve always been a popular kid, since middle school, I’ve been bigger than everybody. I’m very popular right now."

Butler has had a disappointing season, with him struggling to develop chemistry with Gilbert Arenas, looking uncomfortable in Flip Saunders’s offense and upset over his role within it. Throw in Arenas’s season-ending suspension and his continued troubles to adjust and it was easy to see that he was unhappy and this season couldn’t end soon enough for him. He never complained publicly, but the worn expression on his face said it all.

"It’s been hard to focus. It really has," Butler said. "You can say all the right things, about staying positive and moving forward, but it has been hard. It takes a toll on you mentally and physically. This is the only time that you can escape from all of that."

It’s been a while since Butler was in a rhythm like he was in Orlando, where he shot 10 for 16 and scored 29 points in the second half. He was repeatedly blowing by Vince Carter, Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus for layups, or pulling up over them for jumpers. "We tried all three of our bigger wing guys on Butler," Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He killed them all."

"It was by far his best game overall," said Coach Flip Saunders, who met with Butler for about 15 minutes on Thursday. "We had a little talk in the weight room, just about leadership and taking charge and trying to be more of a vocal leader and not taking a step back, but taking a step forward. He was very receptive. He said he was going to relish the opportunity to step up and do that."


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