Butler And Mavs 'Talking Tuff' About His Fit

Welcome to the first test of Rick Carlisle's "Theory of Role Acceptance'': Caron Butler's "Whatever he wants'' response to being a non-factor in the Mavs' loss at New Orleans … and our wrasslin' match to determine why "Tuff Juice'' was a non-factor.

I wasn't in New Orleans for the game, so I wasn't standing in front of Caron's locker after a 99-97 loss in which he started -- a return from a back-spasm problem that had mothballed him for three games and nine days – but pitched in only five points, no rebounds, two assists and a turnover.

But I did have the opportunity to see the live feed of the postgame interviews as they came into the FS Southwest studios. So … I do think I am qualified to suggest that Caron was unhappy with his role, which saw him play the entire first quarter (which he opened with four errant jumpshots), saw him sit out all of the second, saw him get five minutes in the fateful third, and saw him start the fourth and play for five more minutes before retiring for the evening.

Rick tried to say the right thing.

"It's a process when you're out for a week-plus," Carlisle said. "I thought he moved well .... He had good shots. They had a chance (to go in). We played well as a team when he was out there. As the game went on, I made decisions to go with other guys, but I think he's going to be fine.

"And,'' Carlisle added with emphasis, "we need him."

No doubt. Without Caron, the only creators available to the Mavs were:

*JJ Barea, who was asked to do way too much in his 26 minutes. They needed him to take shots (and by God he took ‘em, 13 of ‘em, while missing 11 of ‘em). They needed him to rebound (he got six), to guard wings, to draw charges, to drive to the rim, to be in the game at the pivotal final moment …

You know. Like Caron was hired to do.

*And Dirk Nowitzki. He was asked to do so much (29 points, nine rebounds) that he came back into the game with seven minutes left despite having five fouls … asked to do so much that on the final true possession of the game, with the Mavs down one with six seconds left to play, New Orleans knew he was Dallas' sole option … and Dirk, knowing that they knew, tried to throw them a change-up with an otherwise inexplicable behind-the-back dribble move from 26 feet away that was easily plucked away by the Hornets. Nowitzki was forced to be a one-on-one iso guy.

You know. Like Caron was hired to be.

So why didn't Rick re-insert Caron?

"Whatever he wants," Butler said. "It's just one of those things. I felt great from a health standpoint. You just got to work your way back in. I experienced that before here (referencing being rag-dolled last spring with herky-jerky playing time in the Mavs-Spurs playoff series.) "Once the team gets momentum with different lineups … sitting out and just cheering and trying to keep them going; kind of the same thing that happened in the playoffs last year. So, you just root them on and support from the sidelines."

That's Caron trying to say the right thing, too.

Carlisle began training camp by announcing that he was less concerned with his players' "role definition'' than he was about their "role acceptance.'' Butler's targeted role is clear: They need the 6-7 veteran to be the two-time All-Star he was in Washington. They need him as an option alongside Dirk and Jason Terry. They need him on the wing in the zone (so the much smaller Jason Kidd doesn't have to play there.) They need him being "Tuff Juice'' in the lane so 5-10 JJB doesn't have to be.

Forget the contract status and the dropped poundage and all the sidebars. Caron can make Carlisle's decision here much easier … by simply playing well.

During the game, as Butler was demonstrating an inability to be effective, we were left to pick from our assumptions. Maybe his back was hurting him … Or maybe Rick didn't love his effort …

But their postgame comments do not verify either guess.

It is Butler's position that before his back problem flared up, "I was developing a nice rhythm.'' I am left having to rely on Caron's "feel'' there because at 13 points per and 38-percent shooting, there is not much statistical evidence of that.

Indeed, all we have right now -- as Caron tries to fit back in with a 7-3 Mavs team that really does need him -- is talk. Tuff talk.

I value what Dirk says about his teammate because after 12 years, I know how much weight to put in his words.

Says The UberMan: "He's just coming off an injury, so usually when you miss a couple games you just don't waltz out there and be at the same level you were when you left. So just come into the lineup slow and try to find your game and he'll be all right. I'm not worried about Caron. He's a warrior. He's been a warrior his whole career."

(Interestingly, though – and with a complete lack of self-awareness, I think – Dirk's belief that "you just don't waltz out there'' comment isn't true … of Dirk himself. Nowitzki DOES just waltz out there after an injury and immediately reclaim his lofty level of excellence.)

Now, we don't have the same depth of knowledge into what makes Caron tick. (Though beat writer Jeff Caplan, who was in New Orleans, is reaching the same conclusion I am, that Butler is miffed.) So all we have are words. More Tuff talk.

"I battle,'' Butler says. The one thing I'm never going to do is lay down and buy into the bull. I'm going to continue to play hard and continue to leave it out there. I'll be back."

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