Caron Butler’s leadership mostly has been limited to talks on the sideline and during practice because the 14-year veteran hasn’t played much.
The Kings signed Butler last offseason to be a leader and a calming influence among his younger teammates. But he did not expect to be a spectator for nearly the entire season.
On Monday night, coach George Karl put Butler in the rotation, partly for sentimental reasons. Once Butler was on the court, it was hard to keep him off it. He played a season-high 20 minutes in the Kings’ 109-102 loss to the Chicago Bulls at United Center.
“I know his family is here from Racine (Wis.), and we talked about playing him more minutes tonight because he wanted to play in front of his family,” Karl said.
Butler had a season-high 10 points, two rebounds and three steals. On Friday against the Detroit Pistons, Karl used Butler partly because of his defensive knowledge and tenacity.
The Kings’ latest loss had a familiar ring to it. The offense broke down late, turnovers piled up (20 that resulted in 21 Chicago points), and the opponent had a good night from the three-point line (12 of 24).
Sacramento led 95-90 with 6:34 to play before going scoreless for more than four minutes while the Bulls went on a 10-0 run.
Thanks primarily to Butler’s grit and savvy, the Kings rallied from a 12-point third-quarter deficit.
“It was fun,” said Butler, who added that about 20 family members made the 40-minute drive to the game. “Coach had told me before the game, ‘If you have an opportunity to go out there and play, be ready.’ Stay ready the whole course of the season, wait for your opportunity. Had my opportunity (Monday), fell a little short collectively, but it felt good to be out there playing.”
Butler, 36, has played in only 14 games this season. His skills, mainly the defensive instincts the Kings have lacked, seemingly would have been valuable earlier in the season.
“He should have been playing,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “He’s a guy who’s been in the league (14) years, and he still can (play). I don’t understand why he hasn’t been playing. He remained professional, and when it was his time, he went out and performed.”
Karl has played Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi primarily at small forward, leaving no time for Butler. The coach discussed the situation with Butler when the team explored trading him in December.
“Sure,” Karl said when asked if Butler’s intangibles might have been beneficial earlier in the season. “I don’t know; I thought the rotation was based upon what I thought was the evaluation. There’s no question physicality and defense are always helpful to a basketball team, and he gave us a lot of that tonight.”
Given his chance, Butler knew he would have to be aggressive, especially on defense.
“It’s something I’ve been watching and evaluating the whole season and knowing that we need that consistently,” Butler said. “I just wanted to try to provide some type of spark coming off the bench and being ready. And the guys responded.”
Butler said the lack of playing time has been tough, but the two-time All-Star added the lessons from this experience will help him and his teammates in life.
“You’re obligated to perform for the respect of your peers and your teammates, and you’ve got to perform at a high level and leave it all out there and may the chips fall where they may,” Butler said.
Cousins praised Butler for his professionalism in a difficult situation.
“Leading by example,” Cousins said. “That’s just a guy that knows the business. Can’t do anything but respect him.”
Cousins had game highs of 19 points (tied with Darren Collison), 18 rebounds and eight turnovers. Rajon Rondo had six turnovers for the Kings.
Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson scored 18 points each to lead Chicago.