Bulls lose Dwyane Wade for rest of the regular season

The weight on Jimmy Butler’s shoulders just got heavier.

After an MRI exam Thursday morning, the Bulls announced that Dwyane Wade dislocated his right elbow Wednesday in the loss to the Grizzlies and has some ligament damage. He will miss the rest of the regular season.

“It’s an opportunity league for certain guys, and it comes in different ways,’’ said Wade, who was wearing a soft cast just hours after learning the news. “So this is an opportunity for someone who probably wasn’t getting the playing time that he wanted, probably wasn’t getting the touches he wanted. This is going to be an opportunity to step up and try to help this team as we are in this battle to make the playoffs down the stretch. So as a teammate and from a fan perspective of the game, you want to see who steps up.

“A lot is going to go on Jimmy’s shoulders, but a lot has been on his shoulders already, so he’ll be fine.’’

Chicago Bulls guard Dwyane Wade reacts after being injured during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday, March 15, 2017, in Chicago. The Grizzlies won 98-91. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Maybe, but the Bulls could be in serious trouble.

In 57 games, Wade averaged 18.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals, and he was a big-time leader in a relatively young locker room.

Butler has been the team’s No. 1 option late in games, but Wade was 1a.

Coach Fred Hoiberg will have to figure out which one of his young players can step up. Denzel Valentine, Nikola Mirotic, Paul Zipser and Michael Carter-Williams are possibilities to replace Wade’s 30.2 minutes per game.

“Yeah, it’s a tough blow,’’ Hoiberg said. “It’s obviously not what we wanted to hear, but it gives the next guy an opportunity to step up. We’ve got to figure out exactly what to do with the rotation from here, but to not have Dwyane the rest of the season is a tough blow.’’

Butler is about to find out how tough, especially with his scoring down this month — he’s averaging only 18 points in March — and opposing teams double-teaming him most games since the All-Star break.

That defensive philosophy will  only intensify.

“To have Dwyane out of the lineup now again, Jimmy’s gonna have to have a lot of responsibility, as he has all season, but other guys are gonna have to step up, too,’’ Hoiberg said.

With only 14 regular-season games left, time is not on the Bulls’ side.

“Go out the last 14 games of the year and kick [butt] and help lead this team to the playoffs,’’ Wade said of Butler. “It’ll be an even better story with me out of it. It’s a challenge for him. And I look to see how he rises to the challenge.’’

Wade has a $23.8 million option to return to the Bulls next season, but he didn’t want to contemplate that decision just yet.

“At this point, it’s too much cart in front of the horse,’’ Wade said. “Couple of hours removed, but definitely too soon.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com


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