"Butler was sitting out Friday’s game and remained questionable for the season opener in New York Wednesday," writes Smith. "Butler said if he can play, he will play."
Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls

Butler hoping to return soon

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By Sam Smith | 10.24.2014 | 6:36 p.m. CT | asksam@bulls.com | @SamSmithHoops

The grey warm up t-shirt the Bulls’ starting shooting guard was wearing before Friday’s final preseason game was soaked through with sweat. He was ready to go. Yes, it was time for Jimmy Butler to change into his suit to watch the game.

Butler remains sidelined with a sprained thumb sustained last week against Charlotte. It, unfortunately, occurred just a few minutes into Butler’s first game after having his best scoring game as a pro, 29 points with five rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Butler had made a steal for a breakaway dunk moments before and stuck his hand in again.

“It was just bad luck,” said Butler Friday sitting courtside about an hour before the game against Minnesota in St. Louis. “It bent way back. I make that play a thousand times. I made it right before that. That time, it just had to mess up my thumb. It’ll be all right. I’ll still make that play.”

The question is when.

Butler was sitting out Friday’s game and remained questionable for the season opener in New York Wednesday. Butler said if he can play, he will play. But Butler also said returning a bit too quickly last season from his early season turf toe proved a setback during the season. So this time he’s going to be careful and cautious.

“I felt like it was déjà vu, another small bump,” said Butler. “But this time I’m going to make sure I’m back and ready to go without limitations. (Last year) I had that turf toe. I probably came back a little too early and I was still a little ragged in some parts. This time, I’m going to make sure I’m back 100 percent so I can make that same play again with my left hand and not worry about my thumb.”

Which also raises the question about his contract extension.

Butler as a third year player is eligible for an extension by the end of October. If there is no agreement, he becomes a restricted free agent next summer with the Bulls able to match any offer.

“I think we’re going to figure it out,” said Butler about the negotiations. “My main focus right now is just to get healthy. If you’re healthy, you’ll get paid, anyways. That’s how I’m looking at it. This is definitely the city and team I want to be on. At the end of the day, at the beginning of the day, I want to be a Chicago Bull as long as possible.”

The Bulls would like it as soon as possible, most likely.

Hinrich was the starter for Friday, though the team doesn’t want to see him start to preserve his minutes during the season. Plus, Butler was off to such a strong start, leading the team in the preseason in scoring, shooting percentage (though just one of five on threes) and steals and third in blocks. Plus, Butler is the team’s premier perimeter defender and vital for the terrific small forwards in the East, like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

But how’s that go, marathon and not a sprint.

“The swelling is done,” said Butler, still wearing a splint on his left thumb. “That is good. We’re just taking it day by day and seeing how soon I could be back. Right now, I’m out tonight.”

Best case? Butler was asked.

“That it heals overnight and I play tomorrow,” he said with a smile. I really don’t know (what’s realistic) to tell you the truth. It’s all about how it heals. I don’t want to not play. I’ll say that. But if I can’t play, then I just can’t. Initially looking at it, it swelled up so fast (I thought it might be worse). That was all the blood in there. So, yeah, I guess I was a little scared. But then they told me I wouldn’t need (surgery) so that was a relief.

“I don’t know (about the opener),” Butler said about the Knicks. “I really don’t. I wish I could tell you yes or no. But I don’t want to lie. If I can, I definitely will. That’s for sure. I’m still running and lifting. There’s nothing like basketball shape. You can’t simulate running up and down, guarding somebody. The closest you can get is running hellish sprints, making sure you’re lifting, getting your body tired, breaking it down and rebuilding it back up. That’s what I’m doing every day until I get better.

“(I‘m doing in practice) a lot of ball handling with my right hand,” said Butler. “Lots of running and lifting. Some one handed shot, floaters, all that good stuff. Just to smooth out the game. The biggest part of this game is confidence. So hurt or not, if you see the ball go through that basket, you still think you can make shots. Just (nothing) with the left hand, obviously. Everything else, I’m all right.”

The Bulls wish him well. Quickly.

There is no Next, a book by Sam Smith

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