Almost 13 months removed from playing his last game in the NBA, Caron Butler wants you to know that he’s definitely not retired and that he’s still leaving the door open for a return at age 37.
But as you get older, you get a little more selective, and the two-time All-Star, 2011 NBA champion, and 14-year vet won’t return to the grind of an 82-game NBA schedule for any opportunity.
“I’m only playing if I’m playing for a contender,” says Butler. “There’s only three contenders out there. If I’m not playing on those three teams, then this is what I’m doing.”
What he’s been doing while away from the game is keeping a pulse on it by making appearances across the media landscape and offering up a few hot takes and his extremely honest opinions on all things NBA.
Butler dropped by the Complex office Tuesday, a few hours before he was due to collect a prestigious award acknowledging his charitable contributions, to offer up his takes on the Clippers, Carmelo Anthony, the playoffs, his beloved alma mater, UConn, and the three squads he'd gladly join next season for a run at a chip.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
"I feel like Carmelo really should look into solidifying his legacy and winning. He needs to go somewhere where he’s that missing piece where he can just win and people can associate him with winning as opposed to all this other stuff."
You’re in town to collect the Terrence Cardinal Cooke Humanitarian Award from the Catholic Youth Organization, which is an all-encompassing award for all the charitable endeavors you do. Like the youth center you bought and turned into a YMCA in your hometown of Racine, Wisconsin.
I always get up with people from my community. I’m super connected. And I saw a GoFundMe. This was a little different than the ones I’ve seen before and it involved the community center. That was something that was mind-blowing that they didn’t have the resources no more in the community to keep the community center that’s a time-passing thing and something that’s therapeutic for people. Once I saw that GoFundMe go up and I did more investigating, it needed $170,000 to keep the community center alive. And obviously you needed a new program and a new system around it. I started calling the necessary resources I knew because there were no more resources in that community center. I reached out to the YMCA—they have a great board, a great panel. I reached out to a friend who is a prestigious, wealthy man in the community, and said I’d love to help you—and he’s a really good friend of mine. We joined forces, we got the right people in position, me and him purchased the community center, and it’s been great. My biggest thing is was I scared for the void from 9 o’clock to 6 o’clock when people don’t know where to go no more. So where would that overflow of crowd go? They would resort to the streets.
Your memoir Tuff Juice: My Journey From the Streets to the NBA, was released back in 2015, and it’s now being adapted for the big screen and will be produced by Mark Wahlberg. What’s your role in the production going to be?
I’m serving as a producer on the project. We just got the final treatment of the script. Probably within the next few weeks we’ll fly out to Boston and give him the treatment—him being Mark Wahlberg. See his thoughts and probably push off to pre-production. And the last time we talked he said he wanted to get off to it by the end of this year. So it’s something I’m extremely excited about it.
So who is starring as you?
[Laughs.] The casting of it is going to be a huge thing. You look at movies like Moonlight and then you see movies that have the big-named stars, and stuff like that. And this is my project and I’m extremely passionate about it and want to go about it the right way. You didn’t have a heavy-named star that moved the film Moonlight, but you had the content and the message and it sold itself. I thought about that, and so did Mark as well, so it’ll be interesting.
This is your first year out of the NBA. How did it feel to be away from the game for the first time since you were a teenager?
Since I was a young kid. Man, my body feels great. Sometimes you don’t know how much you ran your body into the ground or how banged up you are until you just sit back and kind of relax and things slow down. But the thing that’s been really therapeutic is being on the sidelines, staying close to the game and giving it a different perspective.
And you’ve been doing a ton of broadcasting recently. So is that something you feel is in the future?
Absolutely. That’s always something I wanted to do. My wife thought I’d be a coach or something like that. Doing the broadcasting thing I’m having a great time with it.
You’ve been very frank with some of your assessments when you’ve made appearances on various programs. For example, you said LeBron could be the MVP every season or LeBron could take the North Carolina Tar Heels to the playoffs. And you were adamant about that. But when people saw that they thought you were out of your mind.
If you look at his player efficiency and everything, you put LeBron James on any team that didn’t make the playoffs and they make the playoffs. And I went as far as saying he could go to a collegiate team—and I went with the Tar Heels because they just won a championship—and could put them in contention. If you have LeBron James on your squad, he’s going to change your complexion. And people thought I was crazy. But when you look at the roster that was assembled his rookie season, look what happened. When he came back from Miami, look what happened. He asserted himself with a lottery team. Go do your research, go look at it, and revisit it.
Is Russell Westbrook your MVP?
Hands down. Listen, LeBron James could be the MVP any season. The best all-around player I’ve ever seen play the game. Kawhi Leonard, Isaiah Thomas are worthy. Obviously James Harden. But I would have to say Russell Westbrook, the guy averaging a triple-double. We won’t appreciate what he did until 20-30 years from now. Sometimes we get jaded and sometimes we don’t like Russ’s approach. But he showed a lot of maturity and development. I played with Russell in 2014. I’ve seen his maturity as a team leader.
Did you ever see this out of him?
I didn’t know he could average a triple-double. I knew he was special. I knew he had a motor. He was fast, quick, and explosive. And that’s a hell of a combination. He can shoot the ball. Whatever it is, he just had it. That separated him from the pack.
"You can’t just say goodbye to your first love like that. I broke up with her in November. I played with her for a little around Christmas. We go through our phases. Now I’m sleeping on the couch."
Is it a foregone conclusion we’re getting a third straight Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals?
No doubt. There are some teams in the East that will make it interesting for the Cavaliers: Celtics. Washington Wizards with their explosive backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal, they can push it to six [games]. I’m not even going to entertain the West. Golden State comes out of the Western Conference and I’ve got Golden State in six [games over the Cavs].
Is it time to break up the Clippers?
No. I’mma tell you why and it’s all business. You start with a franchise that’s always been the JV squad in Los Angeles. Now they’re the varsity. They’re the best team in L.A. Then you get a gem in Blake Griffin that puts fans in seats. You get a franchise guy in Chris Paul who has star power and brings a winning culture to the organization. Then you develop another guy in DeAndre Jordan to create Lob City. During that process, you have six seasons of 50-plus wins and create a winning culture. Now you’re going to say you’re going to start over and lose one of those guys and go back to the basics?
The guy that has the most value on that team is DeAndre Jordan. Chris Paul is 32 years old and you’re not going to get what you want entering the back end of his career. But if you have Chris Paul you need DeAndre Jordan. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Blake Griffin, you need a stretch four or for him to continue to work on his game. I don’t think he’s reached his ceiling. I think he can still be better. You look at Blake, there are four of five teams that would give him the max. But I would love to see them keep those guys together because they’ve been snake-bitten. Injuries. Bad luck. Bad ownership at the time.
Is Carmelo a Knick next year?
I’m a huge fan of Melo. I always have been and always will be because he’s outspoken and I like the way he carries himself. I feel like Carmelo really should look into solidifying his legacy and winning. He needs to go somewhere where he’s that missing piece where he can just win and people can associate him with winning as opposed to all this other stuff.
You’re not officially retired, right?
So do you have aspirations of getting back into the NBA if the right situation came your way?
I’m only playing if I’m playing for a contender. There’s only three contenders out there. If I’m not playing on those three teams, then this is what I’m doing and I’m going full throttle.
So let me guess: Golden State, Cleveland, and San Antonio.
But what is it about UConn guys—Ray Allen never officially retired, Rip Hamilton took a little time to officially retire—that makes you hang on?
It’s a Love Jones. You can’t just say goodbye to your first love like that. I broke up with her in November. I played with her for a little around Christmas. We go through our phases. Now I’m sleeping on the couch. It’s a process breaking up with your first love.
What’s your favorite Pat Riley story?
Pat Riley came to me before Game 7 in the playoffs—just like you, sitting there with your papers and all these formats and this is how we’re going to guard Baron Davis—and balled all that shit up. Threw it. He said, “Look, just win the fucking game. All that shit is out the window. Just play your heart out and win the fucking game.” And, you know what, that’s what it comes down to sometimes. It comes down to your will opposing this person’s will. You watch all the film, you do the chalk talk, you learn the tendencies, it comes down to a battle of wills and how bad you want it and how bad they want it.
As a fellow UConn alum, this past season was a tough one—the first losing season in 30 years. You saw what happened. What is the solution to fixing the problem up there?
You’ve got to recruit the right quality players. That’s the thing that UConn was always great at. They went after high character people and people that knew failure was not an option. Now, in the market where you have over 500 kids transferring in college basketball, that’s an issue. And you have to understand that [coach] Kevin Ollie has a championship pedigree. He played at a high level of NBA basketball. He just has a different type of approach to it. A lot of kids don’t accept constructive criticism. That being said, this is going to be a great summer for UConn basketball because all hands and toes are on deck. Trying to get some high-quality players. Everybody’s invested because Kevin Ollie is the guy. That’s our brother and we want to support him. I text Kevin once every two weeks. I talk to him all the time.