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Young Pistons test Caron Butler's leadership skills

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — After proving he could contribute on a contending team last spring, Caron Butler decided to sign up for the potential of more misery in Detroit, as a veteran influence on a young team.

A 3-10 start has turned that potential into reality, and as Butler prepares to play his 800th career game Tuesday, he is having his patience tested, bearing the responsibility of keeping the locker room together.

You could make the case that for all of Van Gundy's new additions, Butler has been the most productive — although that could speak more to what the other guys haven't done than what he's done on the floor.

"It's coming along. When I signed up this summer, I knew it would be a process," Butler said. "I knew it could be really bad before it got good, or it would be good right away. I didn't know what it would be, but I knew it would be a process."

With Stan Van Gundy specializing in pessimism, Butler has had to be more "good cop" than anything. He had to pull Brandon Jennings aside after his slow start in the first two games, and Jennings rebounded to have a more consistent stretch, although it hasn't resulted in more wins.

But Jennings is one player. Butler's 13 years dwarfs that of the combined experience of Greg Monroe (four years), Kyle Singler (three years), Andre Drummond (two years) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (one year) — nearly half the usual playing rotation over the course of a game.

What helps is Butler is actually out there on the floor, so he doesn't sound like the old man from the sideline telling the young guys what to do and how, preventing his voice from being lost.

"If I was not playing or not involved in the transition of what we're trying to instill in everyone, it could get lost, but being out there playing, you have your fingerprints and impact," he said.

The litany of individual issues are mounting. Drummond is learning the difficulty of playing with expectations, while Caldwell-Pope's shooting has been up-and-down. Singler has been targeted on the defensive end, while everyone knows the deal with Monroe's future contract situation.

D.J. Augustin has struggled while Josh Smith has had a slow start, so the bright spots are hard to come by on the surface.

"You have to stay as positive as possible and take the positives from the negative situations and continuing to build," Butler said. "It's challenging for me, practice to practice, game to game, city to city, but we have to continue to appreciate these times, and adversity reveals your character, so we gotta stay committed and together. We're right there."

"Right there" hasn't translated to wins yet, and considering the Pistons have squandered winnable games against Utah, Orlando and Phoenix — all at home — an upcoming four-game homestand won't necessarily be seen as a refuge.

And considering Butler was once a highly-emotional 21-year-old, he knows insulating oneself into the team construct becomes increasingly difficult.

"When things didn't go as I wanted them to go, you usually listen to the people around you, family members, things like that," Butler said. "That's good, but the only thing that matters is the guys in the locker room. All those people love us unconditionally but they tell us exactly what we want to hear. But the (constructive) criticism comes in the reality of the film that we watch, and we gotta be honest with one another and be better."

He puts on a positive face publicly, but says there's another side that breathes fire into a team that desperately needs positive reinforcement.

"I'm gonna be honest," Butler said. "I wouldn't come out here and say I just (cussed out) my teammates, but I would tell them what I think. And we would move forward. It wouldn't come out of the walls."

He knows he has to echo the sentiment of the man who brought him here, Van Gundy.

"It's a different message," Butler said. "You know Stan is gonna be here X amount of years."

He then paused, and not just to catch his breath, giving a not-so-subtle reminder of the voice in charge for now and beyond.

"He's the president, he's the coach," Butler said. So there's stability. If you fight against it, your message would get lost before his."

Pistons at Bucks

Tipoff: Tuesday, 8 p.m., BMO Harris Bradley Center

TV/radio: FSD/105.1 FM

Records: Pistons 3-10, Bucks 7-7

Notable: Pistons G Brandon Jennings (left thumb sprain) and Bucks G Brandon Knight (right quad strain) are both listed as questionable. Bucks rookie F Jabari Parker averages 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds