T-Wolves’ Butler eyes return by end of regular season

Timberwolves star Jimmy Butler requested a trade more than a month ago but the team has been unable to work out a deal.

If things remain on their current track, Jimmy Butler could be returning to the floor for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season.

Butler, who suffered a meniscus injury to his right knee during a loss at Houston on Feb. 23, spoke with reporters for the first time since the injury Sunday. He had surgery on the knee Feb. 25 and a timetable for his return was set at four to six weeks.

“I can’t give you the exact date, but I want to come back and I want to help,” Butler, who was the Timberwolves bench during a 129-120 loss to the visiting Rockets on Sunday at Target Center, for the first time since he was hurt.

The loss to Houston left Minnesota (40-31) in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, 1.5 games ahead of ninth-place Denver (38-32) and within a half-game of fifth-place Utah (40-30).

The Timberwolves are 4-5 since Butler sustained the injury.

“I have a little bit of time left, but I know my guys are going to stick this thing out and do what they’ve been doing, keep us in this race,” Butler said. “And when I come back, we’ll see what we have left in the tank.”

Butler called this week an important week ahead in the rehabilitation process. He has been able to do some shooting and running.

“I just want to play. I feel like I’ve done this long enough to know that I can still go out there and make something happen,” Butler said. “Now, I promise you I’ll be out of shape. I promise you that. But just getting out there and getting back in a rhythm of things, that’s going to come natural.”

Butler, a four-time All-Star, leads the NBA in minutes played at 37.1 per the 56 games in which he’s played. He said Sunday he felt some wear and tear on the knee leading up to the time of the injury, but would not have changed his decision to keep playing.

“I can’t say I know it was coming, but I knew that my knee was sore… hints, things that happened before I went down,” Butler said. “Everybody had something to say about it, but like I said before, I know my body better than anybody.

“You have to risk it for the biscuit,” he continued. “And that’s what I’m about. I’m not one to sit out if I can play. I want to compete, to show that I’m one of the better players to do this. I’m here for a reason. I want to help my team win.”

Butler is keeping the faith in terms of Minnesota’s bid to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2004, the longest drought in the NBA.

“Never nervous,” Butler said. “I’m confident when I’m out there on the floor with those guys. When I’m not, I’m still confident. I know what they’re capable of.

“I know how everybody wants to do great things, how they want to see this organization in the playoffs, and they’re going to do everything in their will and their power to make it happen.”