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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