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‘Knee-gate’ takes yet another turn for Jimmy Butler

ORLANDO – The plot surrounding “knee-gate’’ continued to only thicken for Jimmy Butler.

After telling the Sun-Times on Thursday that offseason exploratory surgery on his left knee was a “maybe,’’ he backed down from that on Saturday, but still acknowledged that something wasn’t right in the knee.

Confused?

So is Butler.

Asked if he can handle the workload the Bulls need from him with 11 games left, Butler said, “To an extent, yeah. I don’t think [the knee is] going to be as good right now as it was before. That’s fine. You have to learn to play with it and maintain and still get things done. You just have to go play.’’

Asked exactly what’s still hurting, Butler said, “I don’t know if it’s hurting or it’s just all in my mind. That’s where it starts. I don’t want to make anything worse. I don’t know what to call it. I just have to go play and stop thinking so much.’’

That’s where the two-time All-Star is these days: Searching for answers.

“I think there’s always a fear,’’ Butler said, when asked if he feared the knee could get worse. “I’m not going to say fear because I’m not really scared of anything. But I think there’s a worry. I want to play this game as long as I can. I just think maybe resting it is a good thing. But right now is not the time for that. I know that we have to win games. I want to play and help when I’m out there.’’

The problem is his help has been limited.

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 (46 percent from the field) and 5.2 rebounds per game before he went down, and since returning he was averaging 15.8 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting a dismal 39 percent from the field.

The eye test on Butler isn’t good, either. Both offensively and defensively there’s no explosion in his game.

The Bulls team doctors have told Butler that his knee was structurally fine, and a trip to Dr. James Andrews reiterated that. However, Butler was also mentored by former Bulls veteran Luol Deng, and Deng’s trust of doctors – especially team doctors – is thin at best.

That’s why Butler will continue to search for answers even when the season is over.

“With the people that we have here, obviously Dr. Andrews who I went and saw and then my agent and everybody he knows, it’s always good to keep an eye on it,’’ Butler said of his knee. “You never know what’s going on. I don’t. I’m not a doctor by any means, so it’s always good to have a few other opinions just to make sure that everybody is on the same page and everybody is telling you what’s right for you.

“But I mean at the end of the day you just got to with how you feel. If you’re not up to it, if you can’t go then you don’t need to go. But right now I’m good enough to play.’’