Dallas Mavericks: Tim Grover
With Butler fully recovered from back spasms and Marion fully attacking his first season as a pro coming off the bench, the Dallas Mavericks are benefiting from a pretty solid 1-2 punch at small forward.
In the last four games, Butler and Marion have combined to average 30.8 points and 8.5 rebounds. Both have averaged right around 15 points with Marion averaging 6.5 rebounds. Neither averaged 30 minutes during the stretch, and barring injury, neither might average 30 this season for the first time in more or less a decade.
"It’s fun. It’s really fun because you get to maximize your ability and your talent in the limited time that you’re out there," Butler said. "We’re taking it as a real challenge to go out there and be productive in some type of way. We’re taking on defensive assignments of some of the best perimeter [players] in the game, and obviously creating offense and being playmakers on the other end."
Mavs coach Rick Carlisle deserves credit for getting both players to buy into the team concept that calls for reduced minutes. Carlisle started on both immediately after last season. He flew to Washington D.C. first where Butler spent the initial part of the offseason. Then he visited with Marion in Chicago. He shared ideas with both and worked out with them.
Then the players took relationship-building upon themselves. Butler spent the rest of the offseason in his native Racine, Wis. Marion spent the summer in his hometown of Chicago. It's a quick drive between the cities and they joined forces for one another's charity events and they worked out together in Chicago with NBA personal training guru Tim Grover.
"We were just talking about this upcoming season and whatever agendas, whatever, the main goal is just to win a title," Butler said, "whether it’s me coming off the bench or him coming off the bench to sacrifice for the team and we meant that."
During training camp Carlisle said he spoke to both players about possibly coming off the bench. Ultimately he went with Butler, 30, as the starter, and Marion, 32, off the bench.
Butler got off to a slow start, but he's been heating up of late, raising his shooting percentage from the high 30s to 42.2 percent. He went for 20 or more for the first time this season against the Miami Heat when he scored 23 and followed it up with 19 against Houston. In the last three games, Butler is 21-of-37 (56.8 percent) from the floor.
Marion is playing five fewer minutes than he did last season as the starting small forward. Splitting time between power forward, when he replaces Dirk Nowitzki, and at small forward, when he often plays with Butler, Marion's averages of 11.1 points and 6.2 rebounds are nearly identical to last season. He's visibly more active at both ends than a year ago and his graceful transition to the bench has proved inspirational to teammates.
"I’m a professional. He’s a professional," Marion said. "We’re going to go out there and compete at the highest level possible and try to win a championship. Who cares about anything else? I just want to play and compete."
In fact, on Wednesday, Butler's publicity team at Swanson Communications made it official: Butler is expecting to have a big, big season.
"I have been talking to my teammates and coach [Rick] Carlisle about what this group of players can achieve. As a team we have a lot of expectations for what we can accomplish this year," Butler said in a press release. "Maybe losing in the early round last year is what we needed as a team. Now I sense hunger from everyone to get it done this season. We are all looking forward to training camp, getting in a team rhythm and doing some big things this year."
As has been noted here several times this summer, Butler made it a priority to drop weight and get stronger and quicker. He spent the last month working with conditioning guru Tim Grover in Chicago. Butler is back in Dallas and preparing for the start of training camp on Tuesday at SMU. The team will hold its Media Day on Monday at the American Airlines Center.
"I've been focusing on my core this off-season," Butler said in a press release. "My legs are stronger. I feel like I'm more agile, and I have a lot more flexibility in my hips. I've lost 10 pounds and I am down to 225. That's where I wanted to be and where the coaching staff wanted me. ... Since being in Chicago with Grover, my explosiveness is back, and I feel better than ever. He tapped into what I needed. He's made my game better. Last year, I was settling for jump shots. Now I want to be more aggressive and execute a variety of looks from the court both on the attack and on defense."
Music to the Mavs' ears.
"With this team that we have in place, I want to win it all," Butler said. "We definitely want to finish in the top three in the West. That's a very realistic goal. We want homecourt [advantage] heading into the playoffs. To have an opportunity in this conference, you want that. Then once you're in the playoffs anything can happen, and I believe we can make a run to the top."
Of course, we'll see if Butler is around long enough to see those goals through. His expiring, $10.8 million contract will be attractive at the trade deadline, when Butler was acquired last season. Mavs owner Mark Cuban has made it no secret that the club will continue to seek a second superstar to pair with the Dirk Nowitzki.
If a deal pops up, Butler could very well be a part of the trade. But, until that happens, at least the Mavs know they have a player who's ready to roll in a big, big year.
He also knows how valuable he can be on a Dallas Mavericks team that still believes, despite last season's first-round defeat as the West's No. 2 seed, that it can contend for a spot in the conference finals.
Butler will likely start at shooting guard, as he did when he came to Dallas from Washington in trade deadline deal, because of the unfortunate offseason injury to Roddy Beaubois. The hope has been to move Butler to his favored small forward position, but either way, coach Rick Carlisle said he plans to use the 6-foot-7 Butler in a variety of ways.
"He's going to play a lot of three, he's going to play some two and he may even play some four this year," Carlisle said.
Butler can't control when he'll play or even where he'll play if he's included in a trade as the Mavs continue to try to pry a superstar. So, Butler is taking care of what he can control, and that's getting his 228-pound body into tip-top condition.
He has spent a good chunk of the summer training in Chicago with renowned personal trainer Tim Grover. Dropping some pounds was a point that Butler and Carlisle talked about and mutually agreed upon shortly after the season.
"I went and saw him after the season in D.C., and we spent some time on some things for him to work on this summer that I think were important," Carlisle said. "One of the things we both talked about was him getting a little bit lighter. I have no doubt he's going to come in here ready to go."
Carlisle will get to see first-hand how well Butler's offseason conditioning has progressed next week when he's in Chicago for the NBA head coaches meetings.
"Caron's doing great," Carlisle said of his training. "I just think it will help his overall game and help us."
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