Maybe Caron Butler missed the memo about the whole wide-eyed,
two-left-feet rookie thing. The 10th pick in the draft after two
seasons at Connecticut, Butler was expected to come into the
league bumbling and stumbling, carrying the veterans' duffel bags
to the bus and looking good only in layup lines and team photos.
So when, in a recent Heat scrimmage, Butler took the ball to the
rim with authority again and again, at one point dunking over
7-foot center Ernest Brown as if he were a cardboard cutout, it
was hard not to wonder if this kid might be more than he's
cracked up to be. "We really like him," says Heat coach Pat
Riley, a man not given to playing, much less complimenting,
first-year players. "He's got great force in his game, and he's
got enough guts to keep taking it at you."
As the first lottery pick of Riley's 20-year coaching career,
Butler is both the team's star of the future and its potential
star of the present, a sign of how far the Heat have fallen. With
Alonzo Mourning out for the year with a kidney ailment, a pair of
point guards who can't shoot straight and little scoring punch
outside of swingman Eddie Jones, this is a team that even Riley
can't get into the playoffs.
That's why the Heat's focus will be on the development of Butler.
At 6'7" and 235 pounds, he reminds many of Celtics star Paul
Pierce with his versatility, ability to score and professionalism
(not to mention his larcenously low position in the draft; in
1998, Pierce also fell to 10th). The day after he was chosen by
the Heat, Butler flew to Miami and hasn't left since, living in a
hotel for a month before buying a house. He immediately hired a
financial adviser and two lawyers and solicited advice from an
aunt who's an accountant, all so he can "keep my mind on
basketball and not on anybody robbing me."
He's even mastered the NBA media monotone, spewing out
platitudes, cliches and all the right reverential endorsements.
(On meeting his coach: "I was, like, It's the legendary coach
His biggest tests so far have been surviving training
camp--"there's no way to prepare for your first Pat Riley camp,"
says guard Eddie House with a smile--and picking up the
intricacies of the NBA game. "He's a quick learner, but he's also
a quick regressive learner," say Riley. "It's, 'Oh yeah, Coach, I
got it,' then the same thing happens the next day."
Butler is joined in the Heat's youth movement by another Butler,
Rasual, a 6'7", 205-pound rookie forward out of La Salle who has
been the biggest surprise of the preseason. Long and athletic,
with refined offensive skills and daddy-longlegs defensive
potential, the less-heralded Butler will also see plenty of
For now Riley must hope a rookie will lead the Heat. If Caron
Butler can't do it, then Miami will be right back to the
COLOR PHOTO: JOE MURPHY/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES QUICK STUDY Whether it's mouthing platitudes or attacking the rim, Caron Butler doesn't act like a first-year player.
Top pick Caron Butler needs to rack up more than 13.4 points
per game to become coach Pat Riley's most prolific rookie scorer.
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Heat
"Opponents should be able to win most of their matchups against
these guys, who are going to have more trouble scoring than ever.
I wouldn't be surprised if they have a game in the 50s.... With
Alonzo Mourning out, Brian Grant is their only capable center,
but he's more effective at power forward. Grant's not going to
score much over centers inside, so he'll move out for the
midrange jumper--and that means he won't be getting to the line as
much.... Eddie Jones is Miami's most talented player, but they're
not going to give him the ball and get out of the way. Jones is a
straight-line driver: He's effective when you run out to get him,
and he catches you leaning.... Travis Best has to be more
offensive-minded, and on defense he must keep his man out of the
middle. He's the only point guard they can count on, so they'd
better hope he holds up over the course of the season.... Caron
Butler is going to be a good NBA player. He's a strong rebounder
who's more mature and tougher than most rookies.... Put it all
together and it looks as if the Heat would be better off trying
to run, but if Pat Riley does give them some freedom, it will be
a gradual process. He'll want to build from the defensive end
first. A lot will depend on what happens early in the season: If
they start pushing the ball a little and Best makes bad
decisions, then Riley will have to slow it down again. He can't
let them keep making mistakes, because they don't have the
firepower to make up a double-digit deficit. He'd rather have
them try to hang close and hope they can execute down the
stretch.... Next summer they'll end up with another lottery pick
and the cap room from Mourning's expired contract to pursue a top
free agent. You'd think that after going through this hard year,
Riley would stick around next season to enjoy better times, but
2001-02 record: 36-46 (sixth in Atlantic)
Points scored: 87.2 (29th) Points allowed: 88.7 (1st)
Coach: Pat Riley (eighth season with Heat)
STARTERS PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS
Butler (R) 70 20.3 ppg 7.5 rpg 3.0 apg 2.12 spg 48.6 FG%
PF LaPhonso Ellis 161 7.1 ppg 4.3 rpg 0.56 bpg 41.8 FG% 30.6 3FG%
C Brian Grant 85 9.3 ppg 8.0 rpg 1.9 apg 0.67 spg 46.9 FG%
SG Eddie Jones 41 18.3 ppg 4.7 rpg 3.2 apg 1.44 spg 43.2 FG%
PG Travis Best 115 7.9 ppg 4.4 apg 1.20 spg 44.0 FG% 35.6 3FG%
BENCH PVR* 2001-02 KEY STATS
Stepania 204 4.3 ppg 4.0 rpg 0.66 bpg 47.0 FG% 48.1 FT%
G Eddie House 231 8.0 ppg 1.7 rpg 1.9 apg 0.64 spg 39.9 FG%
Butler (R) 234 20.9 ppg 8.8 rpg 1.34 bpg 1.28 spg 43.4 FG%
G Anthony Carter 263 4.3 ppg 2.5 rpg 4.7 apg 1.09 spg 34.2 FG%
F Malik Allen 283 4.3 ppg 3.2 rpg 0.67 bpg 43.1 FG% 80.0 FT%
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)
THEY WOULD BE BETTER OFF RUNNING, BUT RILEY WILL WANT TO BUILD
FROM THE DEFENSIVE END.