The Chicago Bulls did their morning shootaround at Target Center Saturday morning, in advance of tonight’s game with the Wolves.
After it was over, the dominant topic, of course, was Jimmy Butler.
Butler hurt his right knee in a non-contact injury late in the third quarter of Minnesota’s loss in Houston Friday night. He was scheduled for an MRI today, an exam that had to wait until the Wolves actually got back home; they were unable to get home Friday night because of mechanical issues with their chartered plane.
Results of that MRI are expected shortly.
But that didn’t stop people on his old team from wishing Butler – who began his career with the Bulls before being traded to Minnesota – the best possible prognosis.
“Obviously we all hope the best for Jimmy,’’ Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We hope that everything comes out OK on his test. Jimmy’s a warrior. He’ll battle back. Hopefully that’s soon. He’s been unbelievable for [the Wolves] with what he’s provided. With his leadership, with his scoring ability, toughness on the defensive end. He’s brought a winning spirit to this group. You hope for the best with Jimmy.’’
Those were sentiments echoed by Zach LaVine, the former Wolves player involved in the trade that brought Butler here.
“It’s scary,’’ said LaVine, who just now is approaching full health after coming back from a torn ACL last season. “I wish him the best. You never what that to happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber, what he’s done for the team. It’s terrible.’’
Not knowing the result of Saturday’s MRI in Butler, LaVine shared his experience coming back from his torn ligament – being examined, waiting for the results.
“It’s scary,’’ he said. “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.’’
--The Bulls and Wolves have already played in Chicago, so the hype that surrounded the first meeting of the two teams involved in last summer’s trade has been dealt with. Still, this is the first game back in Target Center for LaVine. So there is still emotion.
“I was walking around trying to figure out all the new stuff you all put in,’’ he said of the Target Center remodel. “Even the visitor’s locker room looks a lot better than ours did last year. But the rims still feel the same.’’
And the emotions?
“We already got the main thing out of the way,’’ he said. “So I think it will be cool. I know the fans appreciate me, and I appreciate them. That will be good. … This is where I started. I got drafted here. This is the beginning of a lot of things. A lot of friendships were made, and you can’t forget about those.’’
There are still connections. His sister still attends Hopkins High School. And his friendships with his former teammates, especially Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins – remain strong.
For Kris Dunn, the Wolves’ first-round draft pick in 2016, this is the first time. He missed the first game between the two teams with a concussion.
After getting limited minutes in his rookie season, the point guard appeared set for a jump in his second season. But that jump took place in Chicago.
With more minutes and more opportunity Dunn has done very well. He showed himself capable of being a leader early in the season when LaVine was still rehabbing his knee.
“Getting minutes helped me with my confidence,’’ Dunn said. “It game me a little more swag. I’ve got good teammates. I think the system fits better for me.’’
Dunn said his rookie season, when he averaged just 17 minutes and 3.8 points while shooting 37.7 percent, affected his confidence. “I didn’t feel I learned a lot about the NBA game,’’ he said.
But that’s changing. He’s still working to get back to where he was before the concussion. As Hoiberg noted, Dunn, LaVine and rookie Lauri Markkanen – the player the Bulls took in last Summer’s draft with the point acquired in the Butler trade – have only played in the same game once this season.
For the Bulls, the home stretch will tell Hoiberg a lot about what he has going forward. “It’s going to be fun these last 24 games to see how they play together.’’
--Both LaVine and Hoiberg were happy to see the banner hanging in one end of the arena dedicated to former Wolves coach Flip Saunders. Saunders was coaching the Wolves when Hoiberg played here, including the run to the Western Conference finals in 2004. LaVine was the raw but talented player Saunders took a chance on in the 2014 draft.
“It’s the first thing I noticed,’’ LaVine said of the banner. “I’m glad they put his name up there. [He was] a big part of Minnesota’s community, and he’s still a big part of what’s going on here. I think that was very cool.’’
Said Hoiberg: “I got a little emotional when I looked up there and saw that. Flip meant so much to us.’’
To Hoiberg, who had a 10-year NBA career ended by an aortic aneurysm, the two seasons he played with the Wolves were great. And that 2003-04 season?
“That’s the most fun I ever had playing professional basketball,’’ Hoiberg said. “So many great memories. Flip was such a huge part of that, with the way he gave the roles. You had three super stars (Kevin Garnett, Latrell Sprewell, Sam Cassell) who all wanted the ball in their hands. But Flip, he took control of that team.’’
Hoiberg came off the bench and was a 44.2-percent shooter in three-pointers that season, which ended with a loss in the conference finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, which came after Cassell was injured.
“I still think we win a championship if Cassell doesn’t tear that muscle in his hip against Sacramento (in the Western Conference semifinals),’’ Hoiberg said.