Ira Winderman: Caron Butler again looking to make the grade, this time as coach of Heat summer roster

MIAMI — Caron Butler does not downplay the moment, even with the assignment limited to summer league.

The goal for the former Miami Heat forward and current assistant to Erik Spoelstra is to one day take the next step, as an NBA head coach.

But no, Butler said this past week, guiding the Heat at the Sacramento and Las Vegas summer leagues, starting Monday, is not his first go-round as a head coach.

The previous time, in fact the only previous time he worked as a head coach, it was far more personal. The hope is that this latest experience can prove nearly as rewarding.

“The last time,” he said with a laugh, “I was forced into it.”

In a good way. In a parental way. Coaching his daughter’s fifth-grade team.

“It’s a crazy story,” he said ahead of the summer camp the Heat opened this weekend in Sacramento. “My daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes a couple of years back. And during her recovery process, all the things that she cared about and loved were being stripped away from her. And a lot of people were scared to coach her with that condition and everything.”

Enter Butler, father of four and two-time NBA All-Star.

“So I took it upon myself – and she made me take it upon myself – to say, ‘Dad, you’re going to coach me, so I can still do some of the things that I love. Because you’re hard on me and you push me.’ ”

Tough love. True love.

“And I ended up doing it, my daughter Gia,” he said. “I coached her fifth-grade girls basketball team. We did a hell of a job. We had fun, we won a lot of things. But, most importantly, it was just like the connection with me and my daughter.”

Spoelstra typically cycles through his staff when it comes to the summer assignment, with Spoelstra viewing summer league as much for coaching development as player development. Among Spoelstra staffers who previously coached the Heat during summer league have been current Miami assistants Malik Allen, Chris Quinn and Eric Glass.

And now Butler, who is coming off his third season as a Heat assistant.

Butler, 43, pointed to coaching his daughter’s team as the first step to this next coaching step, to a degree having made the grade in grade school.

“As a father of girls, girls can be extremely rough,” he said, with satisfaction in his voice. “And I had to go through that whole process. It also got my wheels turned. This is like four years ago, but it got my wheels turning. It opened my mind and my thought process about going into this space of coaching,”

A call followed to the Heat, who selected him out of UConn in the first round of the 2002 NBA draft.

“I said I have to go to basketball school,” he said. “I have to go to a basketball school where I learn the game inside out, and that’s the reason why I chose to join the Miami Heat organization. And I’ve been in basketball school for the last three years as an assistant coach.”

From Heat President Pat Riley to Spoelstra and fellow Heat assistants Quinn, Allen, Glass, Anthony Carter, and Octavio De La Grana, Butler has immersed himself in this second level of his career, after 14 seasons as a player that included stops with the Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Washington Wizards, Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings.

“I’m still leaning on the shoulders of them, for their amazing guidance throughout this process.” he said of the Heat coaching staff, many of whom will be working at his side during summer league.

All with that next step in mind, to be a head coach when the games count.

“Oh, one thousand percent, one thousand percent,” he said of the goal of becoming an NBA head coach. “Yeah, that’s the dream of mine, just to find the confidence.”

For all the respect previously earned, Butler appreciates the neophytes on the Heat summer-league roster don’t necessarily know him as a former NBA champion with the Mavericks, a first-team All-Rookie selection with the Heat or the 2002 Big East player of the Year. Some were 12 or 13 by the time he retired from the NBA, one, Heat 2022 first-round pick Nikola Jovic, wasn’t even born when Butler began his Heat playing career.

So this summer-league assignment is all new to him, and he is somewhat new to the 14 he is charged to guide these next two-plus weeks.

“The message to myself is to be pure and authentic,” he said of working with players such as Jovic, Orlando Robinson, Jamal Cain, Jamaree Bouyea and Heat first-round pick Jaime Jaquez Jr., “and I just try to help them to the best of my ability. But they don’t look at me as a player or anything like that. They look at me for my messaging and they respect my IQ of the game, and that’s why they call me Coach.”

Just like Gia did, and the rest of those fifth-grade girls.

“No that,” Butler said, again with a laugh, “was different, because obviously you were managing a whole lot of different personalities,”


SUMMER FACES: Chris Silva, one of the best feel-good stories from the Heat’s 35 seasons, including when the team in 2019 arranged for his mother to visit from their native Gabon, is among those on the Dallas Mavericks’ summer-league roster, having appeared in one game for them last season on a 10-day contract. Silva, 26, began his NBA career with the Heat in 2019, and then briefly returned as a pandemic replacement during the 2021-22 season. He has appeared in 64 games for the Heat over his career, Among others with South Florida ties on summer-league rosters are Nova Southeastern guard Will Yoakum with the Chicago Bulls; former Heat guard Mychal Mulder with the Boston Celtics former Heat guard Javonte Smart with the Philadelphia 76ers; former Heat two-way prospect Darius Days with the Houston Rockets; former University of Miami center Sam Waardenburg with the Minnesota Timberwolves; former Heat prospect Micah Potter with the Utah Jazz; as well as 2023 University of Miami second-round picks Isaiah Wong with the Indiana Pacers and Jordan Miller with the Los Angeles Clippers.

FREEFALL: In the end, at least from this perspective, it was somewhat surprising the Heat bypassed a $2.3 million qualifying offer to retain the right to match outside free-agency offers to Omer Yurtseven, considering his breakout in the 2021-22 season. But it also was clear the Heat were not positioned to match anything above the minimum. Yurtseven, however, hardly was the only known quantity to have a qualifying offer bypassed. Others on that list included Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Darius Bazley, Jaxson Hayes, Sandro Mamukelashvili and Cam Reddish. There arguably remains value on that list, including Yurtseven. By the way, former Heat guard Dru Smith, who ended the season with the Brooklyn Nets, was among those on two-way contracts not to receive a qualifying offer, making him available to any team, including on a two-way.

THE NEW DEAL: As could be expected, the new collective-bargaining agreement sent out this past week has its nuances and quirks. Among those: Exhibit 10 contracts now can include a bonus of $75,000, up from the previous $50,000 for such tryout contracts; games on New Year’s Day and Good Friday no longer can start before 6 p.m. local time; all players receive free NBA League Pass; players are mandated to do 12 team promotional appearances per season, including seven individually, with social-media sessions now counting toward that requirement; players on benches but not in uniform (injuries, etc.) now can be required to do in-game interviews.

NOT SO SURE: In theory, the NBA’s plan to adopt technical fouls for flopping is a step forward. In practice, it could wind up proving as difficult as delineating block/charge. It is the type of thing best handled through replay, considering the often odd angles of such plays. And the last thing anyone needs is more replay. For players such as the Heat’s Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry, it certainly could lead to second thoughts amid live action.


$156. NBA meal per diem for players in new collective-bargaining agreement. Players also receive a postgame meal either at arenas or on charter flights while on the road, with additional meal service also provided at times at team hotel.