January 25, 2019
Despite insistence from the team that Jimmy Butler's wrist issue was of minor consequence, the All-Star forward will see a specialist in Los Angeles on Friday, the team revealed, in order to get further clarification on what ails him.
Butler, who has missed the team's last two games with the issue after mentioning it to team officials following last Saturday's loss to Oklahoma City, has been listed as doubtful for Saturday's game against the Denver Nuggets, though he at least plans to meet the team on the road following the visit with an L.A. specialist.
(That seems a little odd, by the way. With Joel Embiid already listed out for Saturday's game, the Sixers have even less reason to rush back one of their stars coming back from injury. And since the team will travel to Los Angeles immediately after the Denver game, it begs the question of why things are unfolding the way they are.)
Earlier this week, Brown and members of the organization downplayed concerns about Butler's wrist.
"I wouldn't read too much into it," Brown said of Butler's absence before Monday's game against Houston. I asked Brown if anything had changed about how they feel between now and then, and Brown said no.
"It really hasn't," Brown told reporters Friday. "Just getting further sort of peace of mind and confirmation that things are okay. Jimmy and the organization decided to go to California, we'll meet him in Denver. It's really, again, far more precautionary than it is stuff people are sort of overly worried about."
You would be forgiven for being skeptical of how the organization is presenting this. Those of you who recall Joel Embiid's torn meniscus saga will remember that Embiid took a spill on January 20, 2017, in a game against the Portland Trailblazers, and following the game Embiid told reporters that an MRI revealed, "everything looked good."
Embiid would play in a nationally-televised game against the Houston Rockets on January 27, and the team would continue ruling him out for games (many individually) through mid-February when Derek Bodner reported he had a slight tear in his meniscus. The team would later confirm it, later allowed him to go through full practices in spite of this knowledge, only to rule him out for the season on March 1, eventually undergoing successful surgery on March 24.
I should also mention that the team gave a public version of events on Markelle Fultz last season, that was revealed to be totally incongruent with what was going on with Fultz behind the scenes.
Does that mean the team is being untruthful about the serious of Butler's injury, or whether this specialist visit means they're more worried than they're showing? Certainly not. But when you build a track record that has these big, glaring red flags in it, you're inviting people to question what's actually going on at all times.
There is an additional reason to believe that a wrist issue for Butler could be problematic beyond him missing a few games. For one, Butler was spotted wearing a small brace on his shooting wrist before Wednesday's game against the San Antonio Spurs. I grabbed Butler in the hallway and tried to get an explanation on the device, and he simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
That, at least, can be explained away as a precautionary measure. But Butler's troublesome right wrist is not a new issue. After returning from meniscus surgery at the end of the 2017-18 season, Butler's wrist was an issue during Minnesota's playoff series against the Houston Rockets, and he was spotted before Game 1 of that series with a black wrap on his shooting arm.
Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler warmed up with a black wrap on his right wrist but played coy when asked about a potential injury. "I don't know what you're talking about," Butler said. "It's a good luck charm." https://t.co/mWtiaU1WDo pic.twitter.com/MefhYX24Ge— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) April 15, 2018
Last summer, Butler underwent what the Timberwolves would eventually describe as "elective" surgery on his right hand. But that surgery may not have ever been revealed if not for a chance appearance in front of a media member at Pepperdine University.
While there, Butler was spotted with a huge wrap around his right hand/wrist:
Friend of mine with some soccer students touring Pepperdine on Wednesday & they stumbled upon T’Wolves star Jimmy Butler in the gym - wearing a huge wrap or cast on right hand. I remember he was asked about wearing a wrap in playoffs on same hand & said it was for luck. 🧐 pic.twitter.com/v4I0gl5tyD— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) July 26, 2018
Again, the possibility remains that these situations are not connected. Logic suggests that's not the case.
On both sides of the equation, everyone should be praying this is as minor as the Sixers have publicly suggested it is. Butler's checkered health history and advancing age was part of the reason there was concern about the acquisition in the first place. There have already been red flags regarding his demeanor away from the court, which has done nothing to dispel the notion that he could be a problematic force in the locker room.
These things may all be minor on their own. But the Sixers are weighing whether to pay Butler $190 million this summer to help lead the franchise forward right into the physical primes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That is not a small or risk-free bet to make.
And perhaps that's the justification for a specialist visit for an issue they claim to believe is minor. Everyone needs to be damn sure this is a partnership worth investing in, now and moving forward.
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