SI Vault
Chris Ballard
October 28, 2002
How the mighty have fallen: Pat Riley is forced to turn to a rookie—Caron Butler of UConn—to lead his team
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October 28, 2002

12 Miami Heat

How the mighty have fallen: Pat Riley is forced to turn to a rookie—Caron Butler of UConn—to lead his team

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2001-02 record: 36-46 (sixth in Atlantic)
Points scored: 87.2 (29th)
Points allowed: 88.7 (1st)
Coach: Pat Riley (eighth season with Heat)



2001-02 KEY STATS


Caron Butler (R)#


20.3 ppg

7.5 rpg

3.0 apg

2.12 spg

48.6 FG%


LaPhonso Ellis


7.1 ppg

4.3 rpg

0.56 bpg

41.8 FG%

30.6 3FG%


Brian Grant


9.3 ppg

8.0 rpg

1.9 apg

0.67 spg

46.9 FG%


Eddie Jones


18.3 ppg

4.7 rpg

3.2 apg

1.44 spg

43.2 FG%


Travis Best#


7.9 ppg

4.4 apg

1.20 spg

44.0 FG%

35.6 3FG%



2001-02 KEY STATS


Vladimir Stepania


4.3 ppg

4.0 rpg

0.66 bpg

47.0 FG%

48.1 FT%


Eddie House


8.0 ppg

1.7 rpg

1.9 apg

0.64 spg

39.9 FG%


Rasual Butler (R)#


20.9 ppg

8.8 rpg

1.34 bpg

1.28 spg

43.4 FG%


Anthony Carter


4.3 ppg

2.5 rpg

4.7 apg

1.09 spg

34.2 FG%


Malik Allen


4.3 ppg

3.2 rpg

0.67 bpg

43.1 FG%

80.0 FT%

#New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 92)

Maybe Caron Butler missed the memo about the whole wide-eyed, two-left-feet rookie thing. The 10th pick in the draft after two seasons at Connecticut, Butler was expected to come into the league bumbling and stumbling, carrying the veterans' duffel bags to the bus and looking good only in layup lines and team photos.

So when, in a recent Heat scrimmage, Butler took the ball to the rim with authority again and again, at one point dunking over 7-foot center Ernest Brown as if he were a cardboard cutout, it was hard not to wonder if this kid might be more than he's cracked up to be. "We really like him," says Heat coach Pat Riley, a man not given to playing, much less complimenting, first-year players. "He's got great force in his game, and he's got enough guts to keep taking it at you."

As the first lottery pick of Riley's 20-year coaching career, Butler is both the team's star of the future and its potential star of the present, a sign of how far the Heat have fallen. With Alonzo Mourning out for the year with a kidney ailment, a pair of point guards who can't shoot straight and little scoring punch outside of swingman Eddie Jones, this is a team that even Riley can't get into the playoffs.

That's why the Heat's focus will be on the development of Butler. At 6'7" and 235 pounds, he reminds many of Celtics star Paul Pierce with his versatility, ability to score and professionalism (not to mention his larcenously low position in the draft; in 1998, Pierce also fell to 10th). The day after he was chosen by the Heat, Butler flew to Miami and hasn't left since, living in a hotel for a month before buying a house. He immediately hired a financial adviser and two lawyers and solicited advice from an aunt who's an accountant, all so he can "keep my mind on basketball and not on anybody robbing me."

He's even mastered the NBA media monotone, spewing out platitudes, clich�s and all the right reverential endorsements. (On meeting his coach: "I was, like, It's the legendary coach Riley!")

His biggest tests so far have been surviving training camp—"there's no way to prepare for your first Pat Riley camp," says guard Eddie House with a smile—and picking up the intricacies of the NBA game. "He's a quick learner, but he's also a quick regressive learner," say Riley. "It's, 'Oh yeah, Coach, I got it,' then the same thing happens the next day."

Butler is joined in the Heat's youth movement by another Butler, Rasual, a 6'7", 205-pound rookie forward out of La Salle who has been the biggest surprise of the preseason. Long and athletic, with refined offensive skills and daddy-longlegs defensive potential, the less-heralded Butler will also see plenty of minutes.

For now Riley must hope a rookie will lead the Heat. If Caron Butler can't do it, then Miami will be right back to the lottery.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]