The triumphant return of Jimmy Butler hit a snag the size of Alabama.
Butler, perhaps unsatisfied with what he’s been told compared to what he feels in his recovering left knee, is taking a trip to see famed Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion. Dr. Andrews has treated athletes across all mediums, generally regarded as the best in the country.
Butler missed 11 games with what’s been termed a left knee strain, returned for one game Saturday night and then sat out Monday’s game with knee soreness. Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg sounded somewhat optimistic about Butler’s chances to return Thursday in San Antonio, but he won’t play and his return is in doubt.
“He’s going to go down and see Dr. Andrews down in Alabama today, just to get a second opinion on the knee,” Hoiberg said. “So tomorrow he won’t play. We’ll hopefully get some news tomorrow and then confer with everybody and get a plan together.’’
Butler played 34 minutes in his return game and looked like himself, but apparently even after the knee swelling went down he still doesn’t feel completely comfortable with his body to this point.
At an event for hunger awareness Wednesday morning at Chicago’s Lakefront Athletic Club, Butler said he wanted to play Thursday but also hinted at his future plans before they were revealed.
“I want to play as many minutes as I can but I don't think my body will let me do it right now, and that's the toughest part,” Butler said. “I pride myself on being tough and taking the challenge against James (Harden), against Kawhi (Leonard), whoever it may be. I want to play. I've got a lot of made up time to make up. I've been out since Feb. 5, so I've got to get my body back from Feb. 5 and get ready for these playoffs.”
With 20 games left and the Bulls hanging on by a thread to the final playoff spot, Butler’s importance to the season is of large significance—but being in the first year of a five-year maximum contract he signed last summer, the future should be just as important, too.
“You can call it what you want,” Butler said. “I don't think I'm here to be smart. I think I'm here to play basketball, I'm here to help my team win, I'm here to represent Chicago the best way I can. I want to play basketball.”
Butler initially hurt his knee bumping knees in Salt Lake City on their west coast trip, sat out a game in Sacramento only to return the next game in Denver. It was against the Nuggets where his left knee appeared to give out on a late second-quarter drive and had many wondering if it was more than a knee strain.
“I cannot stand not playing but I don't want to start back over like I did Feb. 5 and make it worse,” Butler said. “Yeah, there was a little swelling and little aches and pains, but hopefully I'm good to go, because I want to play. I don't want to have to play a game here, sit out, sit out, play, sit out, sit out. No, I want to play.”
Hoiberg said it was Butler’s decision to see Dr. Andrews, perhaps an indication of the difference of opinion in what the team thinks and how Butler feels, pain-wise.
“Everybody agrees that it’s a good idea to go down there and just get an opinion from one of the top doctors in the world,” Hoiberg said. “The swelling has gone down. The swelling is pretty much gone now. He’s just got a little bit of pain on the back of that knee and we just want to be safe with it.’’
For the ultra-competitive and hyper-aware Butler to miss a nationally-televised matchup with perhaps his biggest peer in terms of being the best two-way player in basketball, Kawhi Leonard, it means Butler is likely taking this very seriously.
Hoiberg has come under some whispers that perhaps he played Butler too long in his first game back Saturday night, when he played 21 in the first half and finished with 34 minutes before fouling out.
But he defended the plan laid out to him by doctors about Butler’s treatment
“Jimmy had two really good weeks going 100 percent on that leg,” Butler said. “Had a really good practice the day before [the game with Houston]. Got him out in a game situation, felt great during the game.
“We monitored him throughout that game on how he was feeling. He actually felt good the next morning. Participated in practice. And then it swelled up on him. So as far as the plan the first time around, as far as going hard for two weeks, that was the plan that was put in place.”
And as the plan is taking a turn south—the Bulls had better hope it’s more geographically than literally, with their season on the line.