Lucas at Large: Butch, Taylor looking for a chance with Atlanta

MBB_120703_Butch_Brian.jpgGiven his own personal odyssey in professional basketball, Brian Butch is more than willing to share some of his experiences with another former UW player, Jordan Taylor, who's just embarking on the journey. What would be the first thing he would tell him? "Buckle-up, it's a great roller-coaster,'' he said. "Honestly, he just needs to know that it's a job now.''

The 27-year-old Butch stands to be much more than just a sounding board to Taylor, 22. He's also set to become an NBA Summer League teammate. Butch and Taylor have agreed to play for the Atlanta Hawks' entry in Las Vegas; marking the first intersection of their playing careers. "It will be nice to see a familiar face,'' Taylor said. "But at the end of the day, you have to go out and play ball.''

Both are walking into the unknown from the standpoint of what Atlanta's roster might look like at the end of the summer. The Hawks have reportedly not only traded Joe Johnson to the Brooklyn Nets, but they've unloaded Marvin Williams to Utah for the expiring contract of Devin Harris, the No. 5 selection in the 2004 draft, and another former Badger point guard.

Reports have Atlanta positioning itself for a run at Orlando's Dwight Howard, the No. 1 overall pick in '04. The only certainty is that the Hawks' new general manager, Danny Ferry, is shaking things up. At the start of the week, Atlanta had only six players under contract. That is subject to dramatic change with the pending Johnson and Williams transactions that can't be consummated officially until July 11.

"It's July,'' Taylor said, "and a lot of things could change between now and October.''

Atlanta is offering Taylor and Butch access to a stage where they show what they can do.

"It's an opportunity,'' Butch said. "All you need is a chance.''

Resiliency also helps.

"There are going to be ups and downs,'' Butch acknowledged. "Even in the Summer League, there are going to be days when the coaches think you're great and there are going to be days when the coaches think you're horrible. You have to be ready for everything.''

Speaking directly to what Taylor needs to learn, Butch said, "The biggest thing is that he has to be confident in what he does best -- that's take care of the basketball and create for others. If he does that, he can make his way on to a team. There's no doubt that he can play in the league.

"What's the difference between guys who make it, and don't? It's opportunity, it's staying healthy and it's timing. If he (Jordan) gets into the right situation, there's no reason that he can't be the third point guard or even the second guard for someone (in the NBA).

"Everyone is so good at this level, the separation between what makes a guy stick, and what doesn't, isn't much. It's all about the fit and the timing. Everybody knows what you can and can't do.

"I can shoot the ball, but can I rebound? Jordan can take care of the ball, but can he distribute?''

MBB_120703_Taylor_Jordan.jpgTaylor is counting on answering some questions in the Summer League; a small window of five games in seven days. Milwaukee and Cleveland each offered a roster slot. Why the Hawks? Taylor didn't even work out for Atlanta prior to the draft. "It's more of an impulse thing,'' he said.

It wasn't like he studied the various rosters and determined that Hawks were the most guard-needy. "At this point, there's going to be competition everywhere you go,'' he said, "so you can't really try to duck and dodge (better players) or hand pick a place where you don't think they have any guards.''

It's more about the playing opportunity than the team affiliation, too. "The nice thing about being undrafted,'' Taylor said, "is that if I play well in the Summer League, maybe I'll have a chance to get invited to a lot of different training camps as opposed to just one (if he had been drafted).''

Asked whether Wesley Matthews could be utilized as a model -- Matthews was an undrafted free agent out of Marquette who used the Summer League as a stepping stone to his NBA career -- Taylor said, "It shows that it's not impossible. My goal is still attainable, still reachable. It might be a little tougher, it might be a little harder route this way (as a free agent) but it's not impossible.''

Taking the lead from UW coach Bo Ryan -- a huge fan of the movie "Dum and Dumber'' -- Taylor alluded to the exchange between Lloyd Christmas (Jim Carrey) and Mary Swanson (Lauren Holley).

Upon inquiring what were the chances that he could wind up with a girl like her, she responded, "Not good.'' He countered, "You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?'' She replied, "I'd say more like one out of a million.'' After a pause, he shot back, "So you're telling me there's a chance?''

Opined Taylor of his Summer League audition and NBA dream, "As long as there's a chance ...''

Butch can relate, especially after the injury setbacks that he has endured and overcome. After keeping his career alive overseas, bouncing from China to Germany to Greece, Butch used the NBA Developmental League as a springboard to a roster spot with the Denver Nuggets.

But in early July of 2010, Butch dislocated his left patellar tendon while playing for the Nuggets in a Summer League game against the Lakers. After months and months of rehab, Butch went to training camp with the New Orleans Hornets and tore his MCL, which put him on the sidelines again. After more rehab, he joined Bakersfield (Calif.) in the D-League and let the team in scoring over the final 21 games.

"I don't know if you're ever left with a good taste playing in the D-League,'' he admitted. "But that was huge -- as far as confidence -- and what I needed to do. I feel good right now. I'm in great shape. I've changed my diet. I've changed my training a little bit. I've done everything I could do for this.

"Do my knees hurt? Yeah, they hurt. But it's about as good as they're going to feel and it's not like a 'bad' hurt. It's just more of, 'You're getting old' type feeling. The frustrating thing is that I have to be in the Summer League again. But I understand that because I've been hurt so many times.

"Hopefully I'll play a lot in the Summer League, and play well, and that leads to a training camp invitation wherever. Hopefully it's Atlanta. But if not, hopefully it will be to a camp somewhere. I've got to play really well so people can see that I'm healthy again.''

The window, he conceded, is beginning to close. So what keeps him going? Maybe it's the realization that former UW teammate Greg Stiemsma kept grinding overseas and at the lower levels of competition until finally catching a break. The Boston Celtics were short on "bigs'' and he filled the void.

"As you can see with Greg,'' said Butch, "it's a matter of what you do with that timing.''

What else is driving Butch?

"I'm just stubborn,'' he said. "I'm going to decide when I'm done on my terms. It's not going to be because my knees don't let me do something. When push comes to shove, I still love the game of basketball. I'll deal with all the BS because I love the game. It's that simple.''

Butch knows that some NBA general managers may do a double-take when they spot his name on Atlanta's roster for the Summer League. "They'll be thinking, 'What is Butch still doing this for?''' he said. "It's just who I am, and what I do. I want to play at the top level and I know that I'm good enough.''

Butch and his wife, Megan, will soon be celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary. The couple purchased a home in Neenah, Wis., to be close to family.  "I've told her, 'If I was a little better player or a little worse player, our life would be a lot easier,'' he said. "But I am what I am. We're stuck with it.''

If he doesn't make the NBA in the next two years, Butch said, "I can go overseas and still make a good living.'' But he agreed to play in the Summer League "to try and reach my goals and dreams.''

Not unlike the timetable that Taylor has set for himself. "At this level,'' Taylor said, "you have to take everything in stride and remember it's nothing personal.''

 He's a quick study.
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