CJ Bruton vows to lead Breakers back to form
CJ Bruton hears the doubters and detractors, but he's got a simple message for the chorus of critics who say he's a spent force in the Australian National Basketball League.
The now 38-year-old guard, in his sixth and final season with the NZ Breakers, has vowed to lead a second-half resurgence as the champions of the last three years straight battle to extricate themselves from a 4-9 pre-Christmas hole.
The Breakers resume part two of their shot at an historic four-peat on Sunday afternoon in Sydney when they'll battle the 5-6 Kings in the first of four straight road games that may well define their season.
If Bruton's attitude is any indication, the slumping champs, dead-ass last after three straight defeats, may just have some fight in them after all.
Bruton, winner of six titles during a glittering 17-year career, is a realist. He isn't hiding from his numbers which are "way down". He's averaging just 5.3 points and 1.9 assists in a fraction over 18 minutes. His percentages - 31.5 from the floor and 24 from deep - tell a sad tale of a veteran in decline.
But Bruton has turned slumps around before and says he will do it again. "This is my last year, and I didn't want to be the guy sending nagging messages to my team-mates about how you need to play, because I've got to show you by the way I'm going to play.
"Now's the time for me to do that."
Bruton is hoping a change in role can provide the spark for him to ignite not just his own play, but that of a largely listless Breakers outfit struggling to find their identity and rhythm in 2013-14.
"This year it's been about understanding 'am I playing, or am I not playing, and how do I get involved?' It's been uncertain. I've told Deano [coach Dean Vickerman] I want to play point. So he's going to let me do that and find my rhythm and help get everyone involved. I can get assists, I can get the looks and I can create my own shot."
It's just one change that the Breakers have to make. Vickerman will hope switching the roles of Bruton and Corey Webster gets both going, and he's already sensed a real lift in his veteran.
"It's been the old CJ through this break, there's just a buzz about him," said Vickerman. "He's gone through those periods every year where something affects him, but I love the space he's in right now, and it will be exciting just to put the ball in his hands a little bit more."
Bruton understands that the turn-around, if it's to come, has to be a team-wide thing. But he is happy to take on more than his share of the responsibility.
"I feel like I can help this team put points on the board and execute and understand the situation we're in," he said. "I'm trying to do my part every day.
"I want to go out on a high, and we still have a chance to do that. I'm not shutting the door just yet."
Bruton says the formula is a simple one from here. It's about attacking the rim and moving the ball - neither of which the Breakers have done well thus far - and all being on the same page with the plan.
"We haven't been on the same page this season, and that's been the most frustrating thing. The way Mika [Vukona] is playing is the way we all need to play if we're going to win a championship.
"We can all see the championships on the wall, the club values of 'fight, intensity and courage'. We need to show courage out there every day and preserve the integrity of this team.
"This is it. I've got no more chances here. But I tell the guys it's not about me, it's about everyone. We don't need to be tight now because we've got nothing to lose. Everyone is looking at us like we are almost done. We need to show them otherwise."