Jimmy Butler is nearing a return from his meniscus injury…sort of.
Following the Minnesota Timberwolves’ practice on Tuesday, Butler expressed optimism that he would be rejoining the rotation very soon, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
The All-Star shooting guard, whose fearlessness with the ball and tenacity defending it have been badly missed by the team, told reporters after practice on Tuesday that he’s “this close” to being back on the court.
Butler was a full participant in the workout, coach Tom Thibodeau said, and his surgically repaired right knee will be evaluated again on Wednesday.
Plenty of people took this to mean Butler would be ready to roll for Thursday’s matchup with the Denver Nuggets—which makes sense. That game has massive playoff implications for both teams. The Timberwolves are currently sitting on the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference, just one win ahead of the Nuggets. Lose on Thursday, and they could forfeit playoff positioning. They’ll still own a 2-1 season series lead over the Nuggets, but they’ll have the inferior record with one game left to go against that same Denver team.
Winning would put the Timberwolves even more firmly in the driver’s seat, hence the hope that Butler might return. Only, he won’t be returning—not if we’re to believe Minnesota’s own injury report:
— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR) April 4, 2018
Maybe this means Butler will be ready for the Timberwolves’ Friday night tilt against the Los Angeles Lakers. Or perhaps the plan, as of now, is to give him the weekend to recover and roll him out against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday. Heck, the Timberwolves could just be exuding extra precaution and trying to survive without him until next Wednesday, when they close the season against the Nuggets.
More likely than not, however, Butler probably just isn’t ready. Knowing the stakes, and also knowing how Tom Thibodeau has turned to banged-up players in the past, Butler would probably be suiting up if he were even close to playable.
Whatever the status of his recovery, the Timberwolves can only hope he rejoins their rotation before it’s too late. They’re still an odds-on favorite to make the playoffs, but so long as they’re without him, they’re also far from a sure thing.