Jimmy Butler’s recovery from a knee sprain will take a little bit longer than the Bulls had hoped or anticipated. A season in which almost everything has gone wrong, Butler’s injury fits in with the narrative. Butler’s recovery timetable puts his return towards the end of the month which means he’ll miss the All-Star game in Toronto. In his place will be his teammate Pau Gasol who had a legitimate argument as an All-Star snub.
At 35, Gasol is having a worthwhile year, 17 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists. His PER ( 22.7) is nearly identical to last year (22.9), and higher than when he won his first NBA title in 2009 at the age of 28 (22.2). He has the second most double-doubles in the Eastern Conference. He has led the Bulls in rebounding in 33 games (out of 48). He is the third Chicago big man to appear in consecutive All-Star games, joining Artis Gilmore and Joakim Noah in that honor.
This particular All-Star game has significance for Gasol as it is the last All-Star game of his former teammate and close friend Kobe Bryant. At 35, it’s hard to say how many All-Star games Gasol has left.
Once he gets over the All-Star glow, reality becomes front and center for Gasol. Pau is the glue that is keeping this Bulls team from splintering into pieces. Trying to keep from sliding deeper down the playoff ladder, Pau’s scoring and rebounding and experience will need to be the focal point of a Bulls offense that has struggled.
It’s clear that these non-Thibodeau Bulls are not a contender. They are an average defensive team, ranked 16th. They are an average offensive team, ranked 17th. Their offensive rating, which was supposed to get better without Tom Thibodeau suppressing it, has gotten worse, ranked 25th in the league. Last year their offensive rating was 11th.
While it’s clear Bulls management allowed vindictiveness to get the better of them with their ouster of Thibodeau, they are stuck here now, the 7th seed in the conference, 1.5 games out of the playoffs altogether. Worrisome, is that the Bulls, on many nights, just don’t play hard. Apathy is their constant companion.
It’s an odd place for the Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose isn’t the difference maker between winning and losing. Jimmy Butler is. Pau Gasol adds his skill and leadership. The Bulls have lost 12 out of their last 17 games. Their first game after the All-Star break is at Cleveland and without Jimmy Butler. Nikola Mirotic’s timetable is still uncertain. He was on a liquid diet post-appendectomy and has lost weight. He needs to build up strength. How rusty will he be when he returns?
So many Bulls questions. When Jimmy Butler returns will the Bulls be out of the playoffs? Can Pau Gasol keep the Bulls together with smoke and mirrors? So many Bulls questions. Very few answers except they have an All-Star in 2016.
photo via llananba