Jimmy Butler clearly not right but soldiers on with Bulls in dire straits


Jimmy Butler clearly not right but soldiers on with Bulls in dire straits

Jimmy Butler stood next to his locker, rocked his head back, pausing at the query placed before him following another abnormal performance since his return from a knee injury.

“It’s not the preseason, it’s not early in the season. This is right now,” Butler told CSNChicago.com when asked if he would be playing with this injury if things weren’t so dire at this juncture of the Bulls’ season.

He doesn’t want to hear what his body is telling him, what everybody is seeing, what is becoming more difficult to hide with each passing day.

His left knee strain isn’t right, and it likely won’t be right until the offseason. So as he sighed, moments after falling on the sword in front of the media following the Bulls’ 115-107 loss to the New York Knicks, he wasn’t ready to admit the painful truth:

That it’s very likely he wouldn’t be playing under other circumstances and that he shouldn’t be playing under these circumstances.

“Yeah I would,” said Butler, before it was suggested he’s stubborn, a trait he readily admits on a good day.

“Call it what you want. They got me here for a reason. Not to sit out if I can play.

“I call it, if I step out there on that floor — 100 percent, 60 percent, 25 percent, 10 percent, whatever it is — I gotta go and help my teammates win. The opposing team don’t feel sorry for me. I gotta play. I’m good enough to play right now. I’m going to figure something out.”

[MORE BULLS: Bulls fall asleep at the wheel in loss to Knicks]

Making an impact hasn’t been a problem, and the numbers have shown a trend that has been undeniable since the All-Star break, when each of the seven games he’s played has been a “recovery” game.

“I think I’m fine,” Butler said, clearly talking through the pain.

Only one game at 50-percent shooting, two games over 20 points and what’s more, the explosive plays he could produce at an instant are nowhere to be found. Scoring 13, 11 and then seven in his last three games aren’t numbers you come to expect from this version of Jimmy Butler.

Not the guy who’s nipping at the heels of Kawhi Leonard for the title of best two-way player in the league, not the guy who’s neck and neck with Indiana’s Paul George for best in the conference.

“I need to do something to get him going,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I need to get him a few easy baskets to get his confidence up. Once that happens, I’m confident Jimmy will take off.”

He can’t take off when his body is grounded.

He’s not visibly limping, but the plays that came so easy before, plays that were bound to give him and this team a boost are no longer go-to’s.

[SHOP BULLS: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The play where he plants left from the free-throw line, faking to the top of the key before quickly changing direction to receive a lob pass at the rim for a dunk, likely from the sure passing of Pau Gasol?

Yeah, he tried that a couple times Wednesday, being thwarted by the ground-bound combination of Sasha Vujacic and Jose Calderon.

“You see the way I’ve been playing lately,” Butler said to the media contingent a few minutes earlier. “It’s saddening. It’s piss-poor, it’s terrible. My teammates won’t say it, my coaches won’t say it. I’m a realist. If I continue to play like this, I’m hurting the team.”

Before Butler came to his locker from the showers, Taj Gibson was explaining Butler’s situation from his eyes, that every great player goes through it, that seemingly every player who’s worn a Bulls uniform the last few seasons has had to endure playing through pain — and not feeling like himself through the process.

And what’s more, Butler doesn’t want to disrupt the flow of the offense by forcing it early, so he’s battling rhythm, health and likely, doubt.

“I need to continue to get the ball to guys to get them going,” Butler said. “I think I should be able to score the ball at any time. Right now, pass the ball to guys who are making shots. I have to keep this group of guys in this locker room focused on making the playoffs. Even if I’m not making shots but we’re winning games, I can’t overthink this.”

Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks


Denzel Valentine suffers setback on injured left ankle, will be reevaluated in 2 weeks

Denzel Valentine’s troublesome left ankle is going to keep him on the sideline for at least the next two weeks. Fred Hoiberg said Saturday before the Bulls’ home opener against the Detroit Pistons that Valentine is suffering from a bone bruise in the ankle he sprained on the second day of training camp. Valentine will be evaluated in two weeks.

“It sucks because of all the work I put in this summer and being around the guys you want to be out there so bad,” he said. “Things happen for a reason, and now that we know what’s going on I at least have a time frame and be patient with it; it’s bad news but good news at the same time as it gives me time to get ready.”

Valentine had been practicing earlier in the week and appeared close to a return after spraining the ankle on Sept. 25. But the third year wing complained of discomfort in the ankle and missed practice on Friday. A scan of the left ankle revealed the bone bruise, and Hoiberg wouldn’t speculate on when exactly Valentine might return.

It’s the same ankle Valentine had surgery on in May 2017. Valentine also missed the last two weeks of last season after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. The injury couldn’t come at a worse time for Valentine or the Bulls, who are in desparate need of help both in the backcourt and on the wing.

Though Valentine isn’t a true point guard, he averaged 3.2 assists per game off the bench last season. The Bulls could use that kind of production when Kris Dunn returns on Monday, as Cameron Payne and Ryan Arcidiacono haven’t exactly showed promise in the early going.

Instead, Valentine is on the mend and it’s unclear when he might return. Given he’s had surgery on the same ankle before, the Bulls will be cautious upon his return.

“I’m a fighter, I’m not going to quit; just deal with the hand dealt," Valentine said. "I can’t sit here and be negative, I just got to fight, stay mentally strong and this will be bittersweet when I come back and have a great year.”

Still in search of guard depth, Bulls reportedly 'planning to sign' Shaquille Harrison

Still in search of guard depth, Bulls reportedly 'planning to sign' Shaquille Harrison

The Bulls are still scrambling to add depth at point guard and found another body to throw in the rotation.

According to The Athletic's Shams Charania, the Bulls "are planning to sign" Shaquille Harrison. Harrison was waived by the Suns on Monday.

In order to complete the move, the Bulls are reportedly waiving center Omer Asik.

Harrison went undrafted out of Tulsa in 2016. The Suns signed him and sent him to the then NBA D-League. Last season, the 25-year-old from Kansas City played in 23 games and made two starts in the NBA. He averaged 6.6 points and 2.4 assists in 16.7 minutes per game.

The Suns signed Jamal Crawford earlier this week and waived Harrison. The Bulls apparently have swooped in.

This move comes just six days after the Bulls added Tyler Ulis, who was also waived by the Suns. Ulis didn't play in the season-opening loss at Philadelphia.

Kris Dunn will miss his second straight game Saturday against the Pistons. His absence against the Sixers showed the lack of depth at guard for the Bulls. Cam Payne started at point guard and split minutes with Ryan Arcidiacono. Payne went 0-for-4 in 21 minutes and led coach Fred Hoiberg to say potential lineup changes are "still up in the air."

Harrison can now join Payne, Arcidiacono and Ulis in a battle for backup minutes at point guard when Dunn returns to the lineup.