So far, the Bulls have gotten a plain bagel.
They’re 4-3 since Butler’s return, but he has lagged well behind his usual level on both ends of the court, and Chicago just l two straight to the Knicks.
According to a source, Butler was told that exploratory surgery on the knee was in play as soon as the season comes to an end.
And while he was initially vague when asked about it, the All-Star didn’t take that scenario off the table.
“Maybe. I hope not,’’ Butler told the Sun-Times. “Is my knee the same as it was before the injury? No.
“But I want to play, man. And at times I feel like I’m hurting this team. That’s the most disappointing part because I’m not the player I was. I don’t know if there’s something really wrong in there, but it’s not really right, either. But I’ll be fine. I have to figure out a way to help us win playing with this. That’s all I’m worried about.’’
The 36-35 Bulls are 1.5 games behind the Pistons for the East’s final playoff spot. Chicago has an easier remaining schedule than Detroit, but if you can’t beat the Knicks, whom can you beat?
If Tom Thibodeau were still coaching the Bulls, he’d be getting a ton of heat for playing Butler. The guard’s minutes per game (34) since returning to the lineup are rivaling his shooting percentage (38).
But this Butler’s toughness showing. It’s not easy for any coach to restrain Butler’s competiveness, even if he desired. I’m not sure Fred Hoiberg does.
Butler makes the Bulls better, even at this lower level. An hobbled Butler trumps Chicago’s other wing options.
The bad news for the Bulls: If Butler’s knee is in bad enough shape to require offseason surgery, it’s less likely he reverts to form this season. They’re probably stuck playing at their current level and hoping that’s enough.
They also must hope Butler doesn’t damage his knee further.