LaVine understands Butler's pain as Wolves star awaits MRI results

ByNick Friedell ESPN logo
Saturday, February 24, 2018

MINNEAPOLIS -- Zach LaVine understands exactly what Jimmy Butler is going through.

LaVine, who was traded to the Chicago Bulls as part of a package that sent Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves last summer, knows both the pain and uncertainty Butler is dealing with after the All-Star swingman injured his right knee in the third quarter of the Wolves' loss Friday night to the Houston Rockets. That's because LaVine tore the ACL in his left knee last February and just returned last month.

As Butler, who has already been ruled out of Saturday's game against the Bulls, awaits the results of his own MRI, LaVine is hopeful Butler won't have to endure the long months of rehab he did.

"It's scary," LaVine said after Saturday's shootaround, in advance of his second game against his former team. "I wish him the best. You never want to see that happen to anybody, especially a player of his caliber and what he's done for the team. It's terrible.

"There's been so many injuries around the NBA, we're trying to figure out what's going on, but it's scary. You don't know what's going on. You know you hurt yourself, but you don't know how bad. You think you're good -- especially if you're a tough-minded person, you try to get through it. I saw him on the ground trying to get up and stuff like that. Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy's a tough dude, so I think thoughts and prayers from everybody are going out to him."

Having coached Butler for two seasons, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg knows firsthand just how much things change when an injury takes Butler out of the lineup. During Hoiberg and Butler's two seasons together in Chicago, Butler missed 21 games because of various injuries.

"A lot changes," Hoiberg said. "For us, what it did was it got our playmaker, our clutch player; it got the guy that was going to go out and defend the other team's best player on a nightly basis, so that's what we missed when Jimmy was off the floor. With Minnesota, obviously [in Karl-Anthony] Towns, you've got an All-Star-level player. You've got [Andrew] Wiggins, who's scoring really goes up when Jimmy's not in the lineup in the games that he's missed. Jamal Crawford will have a much bigger role, and then [Jeff] Teague and Tyus [Jones], as well."

Like many around the league, Hoiberg is hopeful Butler will be able to return soon and won't have to deal with a serious injury. The third-year Bulls coach was asked if Butler pushes himself sometimes too hard to be on the floor as he deals with injuries. Hoiberg referenced a knee injury Butler suffered during the 2015-16 season that knocked him out of action for several weeks and how the Bulls had to be cautious with his minutes when he returned, but he praised Butler for his willingness to always want to be on the floor when possible.

"Jimmy, he wants to be out there," Hoiberg said. "Jimmy's a worker. He's one of the hardest-working guys I've ever seen, and it's a huge reason for the type of player that he is, because of that work ethic and the time he's put into his game to make him one of the elite players in this league."

In the short term, LaVine is confident that his old teammates, especially young talents such as Towns and Wiggins, can pick up the slack in Butler's absence.

"You guys still got two stars," LaVine said of the Timberwolves. "We saw that last year with me, Wig and KAT ... Wig took a little bit of my role that I had last year, so I think he can step right back and do what he was doing last year with Jimmy being out, we don't know how long, but you guys are going to be all right."

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