Caron Butler unlikely for playoffs return

DALLAS -- The next time Caron Butler plays in a game will likely be during the 2011-12 season. Dallas Mavericks president Donnie Nelson all but ruled out a return at any point during the playoffs for the rehabilitating small forward.

"I think everyone, including Caron himself," Nelson said, "understands that that would be next to impossible."

Butler suffered a ruptured right patellar tendon Jan. 1, an injury that had to be surgically repaired. The Mavericks originally announced that Butler's season was over, but Butler set a goal of returning during the playoffs and he continues to aggressively rehab.

He has continually added more court time to his regimen, working on footwork and shooting. While leaving the Rose Garden after the Mavs' series-clinching win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Butler said he could be cleared to practice with contact after being evaluated in a workout when the team returned to Dallas, possibly paving the way for his return.

However, the next day, Mavs coach Rick Carlisle definitively stated on his weekly radio show with 103.3 FM ESPN's Galloway and Company that Butler would not play in the second-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Mavs hold a 3-0 lead and can close out the two-time defending champions with a Game 4 victory Sunday afternoon at the American Airlines Center.

"It was a really tough blow for us when Caron went down," Nelson said. "That was the 'Tonto,' the 'Robin [to Dirk Nowitzki].'"

Butler, who is scheduled to be a free agent this offseason, was emerging as the Mavs' second-leading scorer prior to the injury. The Mavs were 24-7 when Butler, a two-time All-Star, crumpled to the floor in Milwaukee. He averaged 15.0 points per game and provided rugged defense on the wing.

Jeff Caplan covers the Mavericks for ESPNDallas.com.