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His own future uncertain, Butler sees bright one for Wizards

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His own future uncertain, Butler sees bright one for Wizards

Rasual Butler needed a new work home last offseason. Having faced the Wizards during the 2014 NBA playoffs, the veteran swingman with a gritty game and professional demeanor felt Washington made for a good fit. Nobody could have imagined how good.

The Wizards raced out to a 22-8 record through Dec. 29. John Wall's playmaking prowess and the team's interior muscle with Nene and Marcin Gortat led the way, as expected. Butler turning into a 3-point shooting monster and crunch-time option after making the roster during the training camp, nobody projected such a scenario.

Whether Butler will be part of the roster next season is among the questions the organization and player will contemplate over the next few months.

"This is a promising team. If John was healthy, I'm sure we would be still playing," Butler said during his time with the media on Monday's breakdown day. "This is a great group of guys, a great coaching staff, a great organization. I absolutely would love to return."

Butler, who turns 36 Saturday, entered training camp without guarantees or a roster spot. Making the 15-man roster seemed daunting. Finding playing time seemed improbable. Yet Butler sensed his offensive potential if given a chance.

"Playing against them the season before when I was with the Pacers, you could see just how tough this team was," Butler said of the Wizards. "They had a really young core ...That was intriguing, playing with someone like John Wall, Bradley Beal. Those guys would get so much attention. Even Nene and Gortat, bigs who can really pass the ball. I thought like I would be a really good fit here.

"I think for the better half of the beginning of the season, that was the case."

The initial training camp depth chart showed Paul Pierce and Otto Porter ahead of Butler at small forward, Beal, Glen Rice Jr. and Garrett Temple in front of him at wing guard. Martell Webster's offseason back surgery led the team to consider adding more perimeter depth. Then Beal suffered a wrist injury during the preseason, leading to more starting work for Temple. Then Rice fell out of favor with the coaching staff before his eventual release. Porter didn't produce consistently. 

Butler filled the void. He shot an absurd 55.2 percent (16 of 29) on 3-pointers during 10 games in November. His minutes picked up in December while his production remained robust. Butler averaged 11.6 points and 26 minutes while sinking 47 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. 

As the season progressed, Butler's numbers regressed toward the mean. He shot 28.4 percent from deep after the All-Star break. His minutes dipped accordingly, though Butler remained in the rotation throughout the regular season. He ended up playing averaging 7.7 points in 75 games, his best numbers since the 2009-10 season.

"I've been blessed. I'm extremely excited about my journey, having the opportunity to be part of the Wizards organization, being part of the success this year. Really being able to contribute," he said.

Even though Washington's season ended in the exact same spot - losing in six games in the Eastern Conference semifinals -, the general sense is that indeed this team advanced from the previous season. 

There is no guarantee Butler will be around for the next step. He is among the team's four free agents. At his age, it's unlikely the Wizards make retaining him a main priority as they ponder big picture moves with a conference and NBA title in mind. If Pierce returns and with Beal and Porter around, most of the wing minutes will be gobbled up by that trio.

Then again, who would have imagined Butler's impact on the 2014-15 season.

"A lot of things change over free agency, "Butler said. "Not really sure the direction the team is going to go in. Only thing I can control is how I prepare myself to be ready."

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After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

If anyone on the Wizards deserves some time off to rest it's Bradley Beal, who currently ranks fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. While his teammates were off on vacation, many of them at relaxing beaches far away, Beal was making appearance after appearance in Los Angeles as part of All-Star weekend.

The one drawback of Beal being selected as an All-Star and a contestant in the three-point contest was that he got little rest in the past week. He only made it one round in the three-point contest and played 16 minutes in the All-Star Game, but all of it was enough to soak up much of the free time he's used to getting this time of the year.

"Not as much as I needed to," Beal said when asked if he got any rest over the break. "I guess that's one of the downfalls of being an All-Star."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

The workload has really added up for Beal. He leads the Wizards in minutes (36.4/g) and is one of two players on the team who hasn't missed a game all season.

Beal did have Monday and Tuesday off, but that was after a crosscountry flight and a whirlwind of a weekend. He called the media and sponsorship appearances "overwhelming." Many All-Stars have been there before and know what to expect, but Beal was a first-time participant.

Beal and the Wizards will be given no breaks with their upcoming schedule. They have four back-to-back sets in the next three weeks and begin with a stretch of five games in seven days. Those games will feature the Cavs, Warriors, Bucks, Sixers and the Hornets. Charlotte is the only team of that bunch currently out of the playoff picture, but they have already beaten the Wizards twice this season.

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For Beal, it will be extra important to get any rest that he can.

"I will definitely be smart," he said. "I just gotta take care of my body. Listen to my body."

Beal says getting treatment from the Wizards' training staff in between games will be crucial. He also hopes to not over-exert himself in games by trusting his teammates and not trying to carry the load with John Wall out.

Though Beal may be tired from the weekend, he came out of it feeling pretty good about how he represented himself and the Wizards on the All-Star stage. He scored 14 points in 16 minutes in a game featuring the best players on the planet.

Beal now wants to make it an annual thing.

"I defintiely think it can push you more down the line. For me, it's just motivation to continue geting better," he said.

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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USA Today Sports Images

Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

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Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

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