We learned a lot about Caron since he arrived last February. His past, a cage whose clutches he was able to break free of. His Mountain Dew addiction, a habit he had broken out of but resurfaced out of intrigue from the new fanbase. The in-game straw chewing, another odd habit which was embraced by the fanbase until a stern ban was issued. Of course, his game on the basketball court also quickly became apparent. Though Youtube videos from years ago made us believe that Butler would cram dunks over Yao Ming and LeBron James and drive the lane with furiosity, regardless of possible consequences, he turned out to be another jump shooter. Jump shooting, though, was not malign in and of itself...after all, the Mavericks have feasted off of their German juggernaut's sweet touch from mid-range. However, the dearth of ball movement, the contested pull-up jumper while obviously standing on the three point line or perhaps a few inches inside, the struggle to finish at the basket, and just the simple volume of shots began to wear on people quickly. This isn't to say that his first year with Dallas was a disaster, but there was a lot which was left to be wished for.
In the offseason, word spread of Butler's effort to get back to his All-Star form, working to get back his explosiveness and overall athleticism. Certainly, this was better than, say, guzzling five Mountain Dews a day. But preseason came and went, and while Butler did look ripped, his game seemed even worse. But that was just preseason, right? Well, Butler started the regular season cold, and 39% field goal shooting and 4-11 3 point shooting and 14 turnovers in his first six games. An injury kept him out for three games, and upon his return, his combined 5-17 shooting and three turnovers in back to back demoralizing loses made some question whether or not this team was actually better with Butler clogging the offense and disrupting its flow.
His turnaround was not clearly visible when it happened. There was no 50, 40 or even 30 point game that had fans hold their bated breath thinking he might have clicked. There was no Dirk-esque 11/14 shooting night, no triple double, no posterizing dunk in the fast break, no game winning shot. The change started with just a normal game -- Caron doing work, one could say -- scoring 13 against the Hawks on 46% shooting. A simple performance buried beneath many other storylines from that night.
For the Mavericks, it was a nondescript win which, looking back, started their twelve game winning streak. For Butler, it was an nondescript performance that began his best stretch as a Maverick. How good? In this game and the following nineteen, Caron scored 16.3 points a game with a 48% field goal percentage and 44% from beyond the arc. The points were important, but the efficiency more so. His black hole tendencies still made appearances on a nightly basis, but began to fade out, replaced by a player who moved the ball, took shots in rhythm with the offense, and who refused to settle...and least not always.
It wasn't an immediate change, but as those twenty games progressed, this new Butler was showing himself more and more often. By the last seven of them, Butler was up to 19.9 points per contest with only the slightest drop in efficiency, to 47% from the floor. His three point shooting had even increased by a percentile.
Why do I say this? I know, it seems masochistic of me...trying to prove how great a player was playing after a season ending injury. But if nobody understands what Butler brought to the table, then how can it be replaced? Many national writers pen that Butler was just an jump shooter who scores 15 a game, and that his percentages were bloated and doomed to fall back. I would disagree. Butler is a scorer who was finally understanding and playing within the Mavericks system, scoring more, and more efficiently, as the season had progressed.
Whether or not he was for real does not matter though, when it comes to replacing him, something the nationals also don't seem to get. Maybe his percentages were way out of whack, and that they would have fallen back closer to career averages by the end of the season. Without injuries earlier in the year, the Mavericks were a contender. Now, they have to find the pieces to get back to that same situation. They have to replace the Butler who was scoring extremely efficiently, not some other Butler that may have appeared later in the year, because the goal is to be a contender, and they've proven that they can do it free of injuries and with a player providing offense as Caron did.
I don't know how the Mavericks are going to replace him; likely it will not just be a single big fix, such as acquiring Kevin Martin, but several small ones. Even a trade such as that one has risk, because as Butler shows clear as night and day, it takes some time for a player to grow into their role in a system. Butler likely took longer than other player will, but without knowing for sure, danger remains. Everyone is starting to realize this, but Roddy Beaubois' effectiveness upon his return is becoming more and more vital. The Mavericks were considered a championship contender without him, so if he can replace nearly all of what Butler brought, with the other little bit coming from Stevenson, or Marion, or Cardinal, then it stands to reason they'll be right back where they were. This injury ended Butler's season, but there is no reason to believe that it should ends the Mavericks' as well.
As for Butler, this might be the sad goodbye. If so, what a disappointing end to what could have been his most special season. We miss you, Caron, and thanks.