DENVER — With the news that starting shooting guard Jimmy Butler will be sidelined for the entire “Circus Trip” with a sprained right toe, the Bulls obviously lose a vital part of their lineup for an as yet to be determined period, as the swingman’s status was listed as “week-to-week” by team officials.
But given how experienced they are with dealing with injured players in recent seasons, the Bulls are almost taking Butler’s turf toe, suffered in Monday’s home win over Charlotte, in stride.
"Yeah, that’s part of it, part of the game. But we have more than enough. I’ve been pleased with our bench play, so the guys that are called upon have to be ready,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said before the team’s practice Wednesday afternoon at a sports facility outside of Denver, where his squad will take on the Nuggets in a Thursday-night matchup. “He’ll be fine. All he’s got to concentrate on his rehab and get ready.”
One disappointment about the injury, however, aside from Butler’s actual missing presence on the court, is that after struggling with his outside shooting to begin the regular season, the third-year wing had rediscovered his stroke, in almost a repeat of the preseason, in which he got off to quick start before having to miss action after suffering a knee bruise during the Bulls’ exhibition game in Brazil.
“That’s exactly what happened. He was playing great at the start of training camp and then got hurt, missed a significant amount of time and then had a hard time finding his rhythm again, and has been playing really well,” Thibodeau lamented. “He’s put an inordinate amount of time in, working on his shooting, coming in every night and has really shot the ball well the last three or four games. But he knows what he has to do. He’ll be fine.”
Butler, who left the Berto Center in a walking boot Tuesday afternoon, didn’t travel with the team and will remain in Chicago to rehabilitate for the time being
“He can do the [stationary] bike and get in the pool, and lift [weights for his] upper body,” Thibodeau said. “We just felt that it would be better for him to do that at home while we’re on the road traveling right now.”
Thibodeau was hesitant to give a timetable for Butler’s return.
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“Yeah, I don’t even want to speculate. He’s got to get the swelling out first and you go from there. Sometimes it’s sooner rather than later, but we’ll see,” the coach said. “There’s different degrees of sprains and turf toe, so you don’t know and obviously, you have to wait until the next day to see what the swelling’s like. The main thing right now is getting the swelling out of there.”
The injury occurred midway through the third quarter of the Bulls’ victory over the Bobcats. Butler’s return was initially deemed questionable, but he briefly returned to the game in the final stanza before leaving just before the stretch run.
“You have your medical team back there and they’re telling you whether a guy can go or not, so I have to trust the trainer, I have to trust the doctor and obviously, we trust Jimmy, and he wanted to give it a shot. They thought he could, he did and that’s the way it worked out,” Thibodeau explained. “He just didn’t look effective and he said, ‘I’m not comfortable,’ and I said, ‘All right, you’re out.’ Injuries are part of the game.”
During Butler’s absence, the most likely options to start for the Bulls are either Kirk Hinrich or Mike Dunleavy Jr. Thibodeau wouldn’t tip his hand, claiming he was still undecided and even suggesting he could alternate between the two veterans depending on matchups.
“We have great versatility, so I’m still not sure who I’m going to start. But everyone’s feeling pretty good, so we’ll see how it unfolds,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that you’re looking at. You’re looking at matchups, you’re looking at trying to keep units together. There’s different things that you’re looking at.
“I could [alternate starters]. I’m not sure yet,” the coach added. “I want to see what works best for the team, so we’ll get a look at it [Thursday], have a better feel for where we are.”
Both players are prepared for the possibility of either starting or coming off the bench.
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“No, I don’t plan on [starting], but I’m willing to do whatever,” Hinrich said. “My mindset doesn’t really change.”
Dunleavy cited the Bulls’ depth and versatility as a strength of the team.
“Obviously there’s minutes to fill with his position being out, but I think we can do it from a lot of different areas. That’s the good thing about the depth and versatility of this team. We’ve got guys that can step in and hopefully pick up the slack. So hopefully Jimmy will be back sooner than later, but in the meantime, we’ve got to go with who we’ve got,” the veteran newcomer explained. “I think we have guys that we can plug in and fill roles, kind of on a different nightly basis, especially Kirk and myself. We’re here to do anything that can help the team win, so that kind of fits right in with what happens when somebody goes down with an injury.”
But Hinrich acknowledged that Butler, one of the team’s top defenders and athletically explosive players, as well as a burgeoning scoring threat, will be missed for both his skills and intangibles.
“Really, I think his energy, his versatility defensively. He can guard so many different positions. He’s one of our better athletes on the wings, so really just his versatility. He does so much for us,” Hinrich said. “It hurts, it’s a big loss. But everybody’s got to step up.“