The Bulls are one of the elite defensive teams in the league, and while Joakim Noah anchors things inside, Jimmy Butler is their best perimeter defender, often stopping opposing plays before they can even get started.
Butler was originally believed to be a game-time decision for Wednesday’s season opener against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, and was feeling better as recently as Tuesday.
“My thumb has to be able to hold up, and not reinjure myself,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “I think that’s the most important thing. I think obviously everyone knows I want to play, but I don’t want to rush back too early.”
“Shooting and ball-handling is half of the stuff I do,” Butler said. “Especially on the defensive end I like to gamble, so I’ve got to put my hand out there. I think that’s part of the game.”
At Wednesday morning’s shootaround, however, Tom Thibodeau pushed the timetable for Butler’s return much further out, telling reporters that he would now miss between two and four weeks.
Butler suffered the injury in preseason action against the Hornets on Oct. 19, and an MRI confirmed it to be just a sprain. Kirk Hinrich is expected to get the start in Butler’s place, which is good news for Carmelo Anthony, considering that Butler has defended him well in the past.
The timing is never good for an injury, but it’s even worse for Butler considering he and the Bulls are approaching the deadline to come to an agreement on a contract extension. One or two strong performances wouldn’t likely sway those talks in either direction, but it’s a complicated scenario nonetheless, and one that isn’t helped by this recent unfortunate development.