Butler steps up in Paul's absence

LOS ANGELES – Caron Butler was almost on the New Jersey Nets this season.

After the first quarter of Monday’s game between the Nets and the Los Angeles Clippers, Butler (15) nearly outscored the entire Nets team (17).

Butler finished with 20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals as the Clippers beat the Nets 101-91 and remained atop the Pacific Division with the third-best record in the Western Conference.

Nearly six weeks ago when Butler was in New Jersey for a meeting with Nets officials, he was convinced he would sign with them. About 20 seconds after walking out of a meeting with Nets general manager Billy King he got a called from Clippers general manager Neil Olshey. He had met with Olshey and Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro the day before at the team’s training center.

“I was actually in New Jersey when I got the phone call from Neil to come back here and sign the contract, so it was ironic that it happened like that,” Butler said. “You know, I wanted to play with Deron [Williams] to have an opportunity to play with a point guard like that, but sitting down with Neil and coach I knew that we had the opportunity to get a big-time free agent or a guy that was on the market like Dwight Howard or Chris Paul and I wanted to opportunity to play with a young nucleus like that in a city like L.A.”

Butler was the first of the Clippers’ three big additions of Paul and Chauncey Billups to arrive in Los Angeles and says he didn’t do so because of the money (he signed a 3-year, $24 million contract) but the direction of the franchise, which is a rarity for the Clippers.

“Actually, more money was in New Jersey,” Butler said. “I just think that the direction of the franchise at the time and it was a lot of uncertainty surrounding Dwight Howard and his situation. I just didn’t know what was going to happen and I couldn’t wait.”

The Clippers apparently couldn’t wait either, acquiring Billups and Paul less than a week after signing Butler in order to build a championship contender this season.

While Paul and Mo Williams are recovering from injuries this week, the Clippers will rely on Butler to be more aggressive and ask him to be more versatile, playing him at small forward and shooting guard.

“We’ve got a lot of guys with versatility,” Butler said. “And let us not forget, Chauncey Billups was an MVP of the Finals and a guy that carried a franchise for years and years. And he’s ‘Mr. Big Shot,’ you know, a guy that can step up in any role. If one of our starting point guards goes down then you’ve got to put Chauncey Billups in the starting point guard role.”