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San Antonio Just Latest Resting Spot For Philadelphia Native, Rasual Butler

(Photo: Edward A. Ornelas /San Antonio Express-News)

(Photo: Edward A. Ornelas /San Antonio Express-News)

Rasual Butler is your prototypical NBA journeyman – eight teams in 13 seasons.  A Philadelphia native, Butler earned the reputation of being one of the NBA’s best shooters after Pat Riley gave him an opportunity coming out of LaSalle as the No. 53 overall pick in the 2002 NBA Draft, however, this season was the third straight year he was in training camp on a partially guaranteed deal competing for a roster spot.

Each time, the 36-year old Butler played his way onto a contending teams roster, including winning the 15th, and final, spot on the San Antonio Spurs a few months back, edging out the likes of Reggie Williams and Jimmer Fredette.

“Very fortunate to be a part of the first two organizations and extremely blessed to be a part of this one with the Spurs,” Butler told me. “You just work hard for the things that you want. Hard work doesn’t really guarantee you anything but it’s the only way that you give yourself an opportunity to attain the things that you are trying to. So that’s kind of been what I’ve layed my hat on and I continue to do that and it’s worked out for me so far.”

It wasn’t just Butler’s shooting and play that impressed coach Gregg Popovich, but his leadership with young players. Teams can’t have enough shooters, and Butler’s locker-room presence adds another layer to why he’s so highly valued. Butler is a good dude that works his tail off and his journey has been anything but easy.

Near the end of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, the Toronto Raptors waived Butler after he shot the lowest field-goal percentage of his career (30.8, 27.3 on 3s). He remained without an NBA job for the entire 2012-13 campaign, but the savvy 6-foot-7 swingman with a gritty game and professional demeanor never stopped working.

“I started working out that March just because I felt like my preparation wasn’t right like it was in the past,” said Butler, who is a career 36.2 percent three-point shooter. “So I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t allow that to happen again. It’s just all about being prepared all the time and that’s why I worked out so much with Joe Abunassar and his guys at Impact in L.A. and in Vegas. It was just all about making sure I would be prepared for the next opportunity if one presented itself.”

As soon as it became clear that he wasn’t going to be signed, Butler made Impact Basketball’s facilities his second home. Six days a week he would work with well-known basketball development trainer Joe Abunassar at the company’s gym in Los Angeles with stops at its Las Vegas location.

His workout days would begin with a two-hour weightlifting session at 9 a.m. He would then take the court at noon for basketball drills, focusing on dribbling and shooting, until 2, sometimes 3 p.m. After lunch and a breather, he would do more shooting in the evening.  He did this for eleven months and he was often the only client in attendance because it was basketball season and Abunassar’s other clients — about 100 of them, had jobs.

“I think I became more focused in making sure I’m always prepared, paying attention to details,” said Butler, who credits his time away with helping him get in touch with his religion and improving his diet habits. “What I learned about myself then was that I had a lot of fight in me, a lot of courage to work for something that I wasn’t sure if the opportunity would come or not but I was sure that I would be prepared if it did come.”

Friends and coaches told Butler to finish his career in Europe, but he always had the vision of getting back in the NBA. The Oklahoma City Thunder called in January 2013 and signed Butler to a D-League contract with the understanding that he would be promoted before the end of the season. He played in 31 games for the Tulsa 66ers but never got called up. His consolation was being named the D-League’s impact player of the year, an award given to the midseason acquisition who made the greatest contribution.

“It was different just because I had played in the NBA already for 10 years. So it was definitely different but it was something that was necessary for me to continue to play the game that I love to play,” said Butler, who was called Grandpop, OG (Original Gangster) and Triple OG by some of his D-League teammates.  “It was great for my confidence; it was great to keep me in shape. I was able to do some things on the basketball floor that I normally wouldn’t be able to do in the NBA – catching the ball in certain spots on the floor. So I was able to learn things about myself that I was able to do against good competition and ultimately I believe it helped me.”

Without an NBA job again, a 34-year old Butler joined the Indiana Pacers’ summer league team. He was the only player participating in Orlando born in the ’70s and he was competing against guys 15 years his junior. Butler made clear to Pacers President Larry Bird that he would do whatever it took and he earned a training camp invite. He played well enough to earn a return to the NBA, appearing in 50 games for the Eastern Conference runners-up.

The Wizards offered a non-guaranteed deal before training camp began last season and Butler was one of Washington’s six training camp invites vying for the final spot on the opening roster. After an impressive preseason and a fractured wrist suffered by Bradley Beal, Butler found a way to secure himself a job. He eventually worked his way into the rotation and played some of his best basketball in years.

Butler played 75 games with the Wizards and averaged 7.7 points, 2.6 rebounds on 42.2 percent shooting from the field (38.7 percent from three). He played a vital role in the team’s 22-8 start last season, but despite those numbers, the Wizards didn’t re-sign the veteran forward.

The move could benefit Butler as he’s closer than ever before to finally winning a championship should things go the Spurs way. Butler hasn’t scored more than nine points in a game and he’s only averaging 8.8 minutes across 33 appearances. With Manu Ginobili on the shelf for a few weeks, Butler can expect to more time on the floor, but after all these years he’s just happy to be still doing what he loves at the highest of levels.

“I looked at me being blessed with the opportunity to get back into the league as a second chance a lot of people don’t get a second chance, so I want to do everything in my power to make the most of it and that just continues to be my approach,” said Butler, who has career earnings north of $22 million according to Basketball Reference. “Obviously, I love the game, it’s something close and dear to me, you can’t play it forever but I want to play it for as long as I can.”

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