ORLANDO — This Bulls season is a wild roller-coaster, so it’s only fitting their best players ride the wave individually, right?
In the locker room Thursday night at Madison Square Garden following yet another puzzling loss, Jimmy Butler didn’t close the door on offseason knee surgery when speaking to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Saturday morning, he reversed course, sort of.
“Um, I don’t think I’m going to need surgery at the end of the season,” Butler said after the Bulls’ morning shootaround at Orlando’s Amway Center, hours before his team takes on yet another sub .500 team in the Magic.
Butler hasn’t looked himself in the games since returning from a left knee strain he suffered in early February and left open the possibility he’ll need to go under the knife when the season ends.
“No,” he said when asked if anyone suggested he’ll need surgery
But whether he actually does or doesn’t need a procedure done shouldn’t obscure the fact something is going on, be with his head or his body, or both.
“I think there’s always a fear—I’m not going to say fear because I’m not really scared of anything. But I think there’s a worry,” Butler said. “I want to play this game as long as I can. I just think maybe resting it is a good thing. But right now is not the time for that. I know we have to win games, I want to play and help when I’m out there.
"I don’t know if it’s hurting or it’s just all in my mind. That’s where it starts. I don’t want to make anything worse. I don’t know what to call it. I just have to go play and stop thinking so much.”
Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg keeps insisting the knee is structurally fine, and points to Butler’s visit with Dr. James Andrews as evidence, along with increasing Butler’s minutes in recent games, from 33 a week ago against Utah to 39 minutes Thursday against the Knicks.
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So to summarize: Butler expresses doubt about his body, yet his minutes increase.
“To an extent, yeah,” said Butler when asked if he could handle the workload. “I don’t think it’s going to be as good right now as it was before. That’s fine. You have to learn to play with it and maintain and still get things done. You just have to go play.”
With the playoffs looking more and more like a mirage after being a certainty for so long, Butler doesn’t have time to put in the work he normally does—because of the schedule and the fact his knee needs as much rest as possible on off days.
“Just to keep working. I know how hard I work,” Butler said. “I think everybody knows how hard I work. It’s gonna turn around. I don’t think about it like that. The only thing I think about is how I feel like I’m letting my team down right now. But then again, with the amount of work I put in, the amount of work I’m going to continue to put in, I know it will change. It’s not a big deal to me. I just want to help this team win. That’s the deal that I’m having to deal with now.”