Butler lauds Haslem, still hopes to return

OKLAHOMA CITY – Like Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, injured Dallas Mavericks forward Caron Butler knows the helpless feeling of watching his team chase a championship without him.

Butler also knows that his former teammate and friend, freshly returned from a season-long foot injury, could be the piece that puts the Miami Heat over the top in their Eastern Conference final series against the Chicago Bulls.

“He makes them a lot better,” Butler said prior to Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Saturday night at Oklahoma City. “You kind of forget about a guy like that with the Big Three after the injury early on. He’s the perfect glue guy that goes about his business and does everything you need.”

Butler was in his second year in the league with the Heat when the organization signed Haslem, a Miami native, who played at Florida.

“I saw him work his way onto the team,” Butler said. “He makes that series much more interesting to watch.”

Haslem made his long-anticipated return on May 9 in the semifinals against the Celtics, playing just three minutes. He got four minutes in the Game 1 loss at Chicago before making a significant emotional and physical impact with 13 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes to push the Heat to the Game 2 victory.

“Without him, they wouldn’t have been able to steal Game 2,” Butler said. “He’s a pick-and-pop guy, rebounds, effort and energy,” Butler said. “He’s something they definitely needed, another big body to match the energy of [Chicago forward] Taj Gibson.”

The 2003-04 season would be Butler’s last in Miami. He was packaged with Lamar Odom in the deal that sent Shaquille O’Neal to Miami. No one in Dallas needs to be reminded what O’Neal, Haslem and the other guy, Dywane Wade, did to the Mavs in the 2006 Finals.

Now Haslem and Butler are closing in on the Finals. Butler continues to hold out hope that the longer the Mavs play will allow him to be able to join them on the court.

Butler ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee on Jan. 1 and underwent surgery a few days later. The team ruled him out for the season, but Butler has maintained that he will return during the playoffs.

He said Saturday that he has not been cleared to practice, which is when he will finally be able to test the knee’s lateral movement. With time running out, Butler was asked if he feels he’s any closer to making a return.

“I hope so,” he said. “No date. No timetable.”