Rasual Butler knew after Friday’s preseason finale in Dallas that a decision had been made. Head coach Frank Vogel asked to speak with him so he knew information was coming. Butler was encouraged by his play with the team since September and he had heard good things. As he stepped into the office, and also saw general manger Kevin Pritchard, he was simply hoping for the best.
“They said this was the easy part, that I made the team, and they felt like my experience could help this team on the floor and especially off the floor,” Butler recalled following practice on Sunday. “Just being a good veteran leader, helping some of the young guys with some of my experiences that I’ve seen throughout the game of basketball and also in life.
“They referenced Juwan Howard, talking about how he was really valuable to the Miami Heat, but they also wanted me to stay ready to play. Be that good locker room guy, be a good veteran leader and help out guys like Lance Stephenson, Orlando Johnson and Solomon Hill, and helping those guys stay focused.”
Howard, now 40 years old, was with the Miami Heat for their back-to-back championships, and although he contributed little on the floor – he played in just 44 games total over the last two seasons, including playoffs – Howard had a big part in their success because of the weight he carried in the locker room.
Howard retired after last season’s title but he remained with the team as an assistant coach for player development.
Butler has already taken special interest in Stephenson, Johnson and Hill. He’s passing along what he is seeing while also keeping them engaged on the bench. But that’s not all. He aims to make a difference on the floor whenever called upon, and there may be some minutes for him at times early on due to the uncertainty surrounding Danny Granger’s health.
“You just have to be ready to play at all times,” said Butler. “That’s my job, to be ready to play basketball. That’s something that coach and Kevin talked to me about.”
Sticking on the team’s roster, at least for now, carries extra weight for the 34-year-old because of the work and sacrifices he make it back in the NBA, where roster spots are limited. During his year out of the league last year, he spent time in the D-League. The Pacers then added him to their Summer League team to get an up-close view of what he had left in the tank and how he could contribute.
“It feels really good,” Butler said of making a roster after failing to last year. “I don’t know too many guys that at the age of 34 who play NBA Summer League. I was almost 15 years older than some of those guys there. It was me doing something to show people that I still wanted to play and that I could still play and that my body was in shape. I also played part of the year in the Developmental League, so it was really gratifying to hear that I made the team and that they see how could add value to a great team like this.
“This is a big step. This lets me know at this point, they feel that I’m someone that can help the team and I’m going to continue to work hard everyday to continue to show that.”
Butler said a couple other teams were interested in his services but when the Pacers called and he saw a possible need for a wing, the decision was easy.
“Not very often do you have the opportunity to be part of a high-class organization with talented players with high character looking to do something special,” he said. “It’s not very often that you have that opportunity in your career so I wanted to try and take advantage of that.”
Butler is set to begin his 11th year in the NBA and the Pacers are his sixth different team. He’s on a non-guaranteed, minimum deal with a cap hit of $885,000. However, he does take away the team’s flexibility should they need or choose to go after another player because they’d then exceed the luxury tax. President Larry Bird has said numerous times that they won’t exceed the tax line.
The key date for Butler and the Pacers is Jan. 10, when contracts are guaranteed for the remainder of the season. The decision whether or not to keep him will ultimately be in the hands of Bird and owner Herb Simon.
“Rasual has earned a job on our team and we’re excited about having him on the roster opening night,” Vogel said. “[He’s] the reliable veteran [and] a good story. A guy who was out of the league last year and didn’t quit on it. He went to the D-League and worked, and made sure he stayed sharp with everything until he got another opportunity and made the best of it.”
Butler saw time in five of the eight preseason games. 40 minutes total. He was 3-for-15 from the floor, scored eight points and pulled down seven rebounds. Over his decade-long career, he’s a 40-percent shooter.
“I’m a guy that can space the floor and hit shots,” Butler said of his game “I can defend. I still have some pop in my legs to be athletic, to run with guys and make some good defensive plays. I can hit a one-two dribble pull-up and get to the basketball a little bit. I’ve really worked on my body to get stronger. Being able to make reads out of pick-and-rolls so you can be more of a threat on the basketball floor.”
Butler’s teammates already see his fit with this bunch.
“Rasual's the type of player you need on your team,” said Granger, who’s been with the Pacers since they drafted him in 2005. “He's played on teams like this one. Any guy who can stretch the court and make open shots and play defense, and a veteran who gets along with all the guys, any team needs that. I definitely think there's a place for him.”
Added George Hill: “He's a great leader, a great teammate. He's been in the NBA, he's been around good teams, he's been around bad teams, he knows how to win, there's nothing flashy about him, but what we need from him is his leadership. That's the most positive thing that he brings. Great locker room guy. Hold everyone accountable, make them do things that maybe he knows he should have done early in his career.”
Whether it is through his guidance, experience or on-court play, Butler is willing to do whatever to stay with the Pacers and most importantly, help them in their effort to win the franchise’s first NBA title.