Jimmy Butler has meniscus injury; no timetable on return

MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler suffered a right meniscus injury, an MRI revealed Saturday. Butler will seek a second opinion on the knee he injured a night earlier.

While a time frame for his return has not been set, Butler is telling close confidants that he is optimistic about his chances to come back before the playoffs begin, should the Timberwolves clinch their first playoff berth in 13 seasons. As for a final decision on potential surgery to fix the meniscus injury, league sources say a decision could come down as early as Sunday, with the surgery taking place soon thereafter.

"It's an injury," Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said before Saturday's 122-104 win over the visiting Chicago Bulls. "I think Jimmy's still gathering information. So we'll have more information [Sunday] in terms of a course of action, how we'll proceed from there."

Butler was in attendance at the Target Center prior to Saturday's game with his former team, casually talking to reporters and team personnel.

He posted on social media a photo along with a caption that included the words "you gotta take the crooked with the straight."

Butler suffered the noncontact injury in the third quarter of the Timberwolves' road loss to the Houston Rockets on Friday.

"I'm not going to elaborate other than we're going to say it's a meniscus injury right now," Thibodeau said. "Until he can gather the information and then we can go forward from there. We had travel problems [Friday] night, so we didn't get back 'til late today; so we want to give Jimmy the opportunity to talk to the medical people that he needs to talk to for us to proceed."

Losing Butler -- who is averaging 22.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5 assists in 56 games -- for any length of time would be a huge blow to a Timberwolves team that sits in fourth place in the Western Conference. But even if he is to miss time, there was a sense of relief within the locker room that Saturday's MRI revealed that he hadn't torn his ACL.

"I've been around this a long time," said Taj Gibson, Butler's longtime teammate with the Bulls and Timberwolves. "The bright side is it isn't his ACL, so that's a good thing.

"It still sucks he has a tough injury; all injuries are tough, but the doctors are saying some good things, so we'll see in a few weeks maybe."

Gibson noted that Butler has been in a really good mood despite the disappointment surrounding his injury.

"He was talking so much trash on the plane, you didn't really think he was hurt," Gibson said. "He came in today making jokes, being his normal self, so I think he's fine mentally. It could have been worse. Most people thought it was a lot worse, so I think he's already in the right state of mind."

Having watched the downfall of Derrick Rose's career in Chicago and seeing many of his teammates never return to the same high level of play following various injuries, Gibson said he will continue to make it clear to Butler that he shouldn't return to the floor unless he is fully healthy.

"He thrives in adversity," Gibson said. "So if he has a chance to come back and play, we'll have to wait and see, hopefully. If he's healthy enough, he can play; but as a friend first, I want him to be 110 percent.

"Over the years, I've already seen guys rush back, and those kind of things kind of hurt a player's career. You may be OK for the first couple games, but as it goes on the next couple years, your progress kind of slows down. I just want him to be safe and do it the right way."

After seeing the Bulls on Saturday and completing a road date against the Sacramento Kings on Monday, the Wolves will have eight straight games against teams that have an above-.500 record. Thibodeau understands that without their best player on the floor, young offensive stars such as Karl-Anthony Towns and others, including Gibson, are going to have to pick up even more slack for Minnesota.

"A guy like Jimmy you don't replace him individually; we have to do that collectively," Thibodeau said. "We had the opportunity to do it earlier in the year. But the first time around we didn't handle that well; the second time I thought we handled that well. So just be ready to go and understand where we are."

Towns hopes that Butler will return in the near future, but he remains confident that the Timberwolves can hang onto their playoff spot even if the All-Star swingman does not return this season.

"Of course, why would we not be confident?" Towns said after Saturday's win. "With Jimmy out, it doesn't matter. He's definitely already talked to us and I know him well enough -- he wants us to do even better without him because he wants the best for us. So there's not like second-guessing if Jimmy comes back or not -- we got to go out there and compete at a high level every night."