Luol Deng makes return to Bulls

CHICAGO -- Bulls forward Luol Deng was in the starting lineup against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night after missing the last five games because of an Achilles injury.

"I think it's big," Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of Deng's return. "You're getting back to being at full strength. You have Jo (Noah) who's in rhythm now. Carlos (Boozer) and Taj (Gibson) have done a very good job all season. Jimmy (Butler's) starting to get his rhythm. I think Kirk (Hinrich) and D.J. (Augustin) are comfortable at the point. Mike Dunleavy's been solid throughout so now we have some quality depth."

Deng, averaging a team-leading 19.6 points, has been forthcoming regarding the fact that in years past he may have played despite still not feeling great. He and the Bulls have taken a more cautious approach regarding his status considering the organization's championship aspirations disappeared after Derrick Rose went down for the season with another knee injury on Nov. 22.

"I think we learned from the past," Deng said recently. "I think the players, too. We talk to each other. In the past I would have been out there playing and then missing another month or so and I really don't want to do that. The other thing is I don't want to keep coming in and out. I think that's the last thing we need. We're trying to get going. We won two in a row. Guys are playing well, we're getting guys back, and I don't want to come in and then out again. But definitely I think we're being smarter this year."

Deng's name continues to come up in trade rumors despite the fact he has said repeatedly he wants to stay in Chicago. He and the Bulls were unable to work out an extension last summer but the Bulls are still hopeful they will be able to come to an agreement with him. He will be a free agent at the end of this season.