Deng back? Butler eyes return to bench

One of Jimmy Butler's bright spots while Luol Deng was injured was limiting Kobe Bryant. AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau stopped short of saying All-Star forward Luol Deng would return to the lineup Monday night against the Charlotte Bobcats after missing the last five games with a hamstring injury. But Deng's replacement in the starting lineup sounds as if he knows he'll be back on the bench.

"Glad to have (Luol) back," Jimmy Butler said Monday after the team's morning shoot-around. "We're going to just keep going. Same role coming off the bench."

Butler was terrific in Deng's absence, averaging 14 points and nearly nine rebounds in five starts. It was his first extended stint in the starting lineup.

"You make it sound like it's a new revelation," Thibodeau said. "Jimmy has played well. It's what we expect of our bench."

Deng did a "little bit more" in practice on Monday, according to Thibodeau and has "gotten better every day," but he's still a game-time decision.

Butler is more than happy to take what he learned back to the bench with him.

"I feel like it gave me confidence in knowing what I can do," Butler said. "I feel like it was a definite confidence boost."

Thibodeau was asked if Butler's minutes would decrease substantially considering Deng's imminent return. Butler went from 17 minutes per game as a non-starter to 45 minutes after Deng went down.

"We always do what's best for the team," Thibodeau said while admitting Butler has been great. "You also can't overlook what Luol has done for our team. So anytime you say ‘are you going to add this guy,' well, anytime you add somebody you have to take someone out. You do what's best for the team."

The Bulls lost to the Bobcats 91-81 on New Year's Eve in the only contest between the teams this season.