Caron Butler is introduced at a press conference on Tuesday. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit News)
Auburn Hills — Signing with the Pistons is another challenge for Caron Butler in a career full of them, as the man nicknamed “tuff juice” has a tough task ahead of him, if he chooses to accept it.
Not only does he have to prove to the NBA he can still play at a consistent level, at age 34, but he’ll be looked upon as the “old head” in the locker room, a locker room that has new faces to incorporate —with the incumbents still smarting from being fragmented last season.
He’ll observe before he speaks, although he understands the urgency of the fan base wanting things to improve, post-haste.
“You do it naturally. You kind of soak up everything and see what happens,” Butler said. “You watch and listen and then open your mouth.”
Butler signed a two-year deal with a team option for 2015-16, worth $4.5 million annually. He and guard D.J. Augustin (two years, $6 million) were introduced by Pistons President Stan Van Gundy as Van Gundy’s fourth and fifth new additions via free agency.
Neither have been promised a starting spot, but it appears Van Gundy is fostering an atmosphere of competition. Although Butler is at an advanced NBA age, Augustin appears ready to compete for major minutes.
Augustin excelled with the Bulls last season in the absence of Derrick Rose, which didn’t seem likely after he was released from the Raptors a handful of games into the season. He took his chance and ran with it, averaging 14.9 points and 5.0 assists in 61 games, and shooting 41 percent from 3.
“The last two years, I didn’t get an opportunity,” Augustin said. “In Chicago, coach Thibs (Tom Thibodeau) gave me a chance to play and play a lot of minutes. For anyone in the NBA, when you get a chance to play every night, you get comfortable, you get confident.”
Chauncey Billups was re-acquired to fill Butler’s role last year, on the fourth-youngest team in the NBA, but it was hard to exert leadership when he wasn’t healthy and couldn’t perform at a level that warranted having a voice.
The Pistons are Butler’s eighth team in 12 years, but he wasn’t easily discarded, and surely left his imprint on those organizations — even as a young player still learning the ways of the league.
His imprint was left on NBA MVP Kevin Durant, evident during his tearful acceptance speech where he mentioned his teammate of 22 regular-season games as one of his biggest influences.
“I try to remain humble. I’m real, from top to bottom. I don’t try to sugarcoat nothing,” Butler said. “When you’re real and authentic and the facts back it up, from life, you’re like, he’s coming from the heart. I use life as a reflection of basketball when I talk to my teammates because I’ve been around long enough. I tell them stories, and they can look it up.”
Butler’s NBA journey began in Miami in 2002 as a rookie, and the next season, a high-strung but detailed assistant moved over to the first chair when Pat Riley stepped down, starting a relationship of trust with Van Gundy that resulted in his arrival now.
“I told Caron, we’re not bringing you here just to teach the young guys. We’re bringing you here to play,” Van Gundy said. “I firmly believe you need veteran leadership, but it doesn’t work when guys aren’t playing, especially with a new group. They’re looking to follow you, not just with what you say, but what you do. We wouldn’t have brought him in if he couldn’t still get the job done.”
The Pistons witnessed Butler getting it done in a Jan. 22 meeting, when he was a Milwaukee Buck and scored 30 with seven rebounds and five assists in a 104-101 Bucks win. If those performances can come every once in a while in a Pistons uniform, he’ll gain even more currency in the locker room.
“Everything’s earned. This is an earned league. I’m 34 years old. I want to continue to earn my stripes. You play this game for the respect of your peers,” Butler said.
He looked at his watch, trying to quantify the time between him actually signing his contract to speaking to the media, after being asked about possibly reaching out to restricted free agent Greg Monroe.
“I will. I will,” Butler said. “I just signed my contract an hour ago but I will reach out to him, and all my teammates, just to see where their head at and what they’re up to and maybe we can link up. Interact and hopefully start this thing early.”
Siva, Harrellson released
To make way for Butler and Augustin, the Pistons released 2013 second-round pick Peyton Siva and Josh Harrellson.
The Pistons had five point guards on the roster, and had until July 20 to make their roster decision on Siva. He showed promise toward the end of last season after a shaky start, and he should get a shot elsewhere.
“He’s exactly the type of person you want to have in your organization,” Van Gundy said. “Hard working, team oriented. But…we want to be better now, too.
“And D.J. gives us a chance to be better right now in the next couple of years and I thought it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”