NEW YORK – Jimmy Butler has recently tried to make all talk concerning his left knee off limits.

He had no choice but to lift that ban after a loss to New York in Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

According to a source, Butler was told that exploratory surgery on the knee was in play as soon as the season comes to an end.

And while he was initially vague when asked about it, the All-Star didn’t take that scenario off the table.

“Maybe. I hope not,’’ Butler told the Sun-Times. “Is my knee the same as it was before the injury? No.

“But I want to play, man. And at times I feel like I’m hurting this team. That’s the most disappointing part because I’m not the player I was. I don’t know if there’s something really wrong in there, but it’s not really right, either. But I’ll be fine. I have to figure out a way to help us win playing with this. That’s all I’m worried about.’’

Well, not all he’s worried about.

Since injuring the knee back on Feb. 5 in Denver, Butler isn’t even close to resembling the elite player he was before the injury.

He was averaging 22.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game before the knee betrayed him and shooting 46 percent from the field. Since making his return, however, he was averaging 15.8 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting a dismal 39 percent from the field.

Away from the numbers, however, there’s no explosion in his game offensively, and far too often Butler admittedly is opting to pass the ball in mid-attack of the paint rather than challenge the defense at the rim.

Defensively – which was the Butler calling card – he seems a tick slow.

All of this, despite being cleared to play by Bulls team doctors, as well as Dr. James Andrews telling him there was nothing structurally wrong with the knee.

“It’s probably in the back of his mind a little bit,’’ coach Fred Hoiberg said. “But I think that gave him some reassurance was when he went down and saw Dr. Andrews and got a clean-belt of health that everything in there was OK structurally. For him, and all players, not just Jimmy, you need to be out there reacting rather than out there thinking.’’

Butler is thinking.

He’s thinking that something feels wrong in the knee still, but with just 11 regular-season games left and the Bulls trying to claw back into a playoff spot, there’s no time for a breather.

Butler is a gym rat in every sense of the definition, and in his world when something is off, he simply hits the gym with the members of his camp and fixes it. There’s not time for that right now, and that’s what has him concerned.

“I think it’s getting over the mental right now,’’ Butler said of the knee. “It’s more mental. And usually I can get into the gym and get into it, but the way these games are coming on the schedule, you’ve got to rest your body. That’s the hardest part.

“I don’t want this offseason to start early, that’s for sure. But if [the playoffs don’t] happen, I can get back into the gym and work on what I need to do. Right now I have to do it in the game and do it under fire. It’s just not reacting like I want it to.’’