Rip Hamilton returns for Bulls

CHICAGO -- Guards Rip Hamilton and C.J. Watson were on the court for the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday as they begun the second half of the season with a healthy roster against the New Orleans Hornets.

Hamilton scored five points in 17 minutes while Watson went scoreless with two assists in the Bulls' 99-95 win.

Hamilton was not listed on the initial starting lineup against New Orleans, but 10 minutes before the tipoff, the Bulls announced he would start. Hamilton hadn't played a game since Chicago's 97-93 loss to Miami on Jan. 29. Hamilton, the Bulls' marquee free-agent signing this season, has only played 12 games. He has been limited by groin and thigh injuries. The Bulls were 4-1 with their planned starting lineup, going into the game.

Watson had missed Chicago's previous two contests with a concussion.

With both guards returning, veteran reserve Mike James, released on Tuesday, proved to be the odd man out.

"Once I step on the floor, I always think I'm all right," Hamilton said at Tuesday's shootaround. "That was the biggest thing from the first (setback). My mind was telling me I was all right, but my body was telling me something different.

"But that's the biggest thing I've got to get over as an athlete. You want to play. You want to get out on the floor. You don't care how you feel. Your mind's telling you one thing but your body might tell you something later on. That's the thing I've got to try and figure out. And that's what Thibs and (GM Gar Forman) and them, they're very helpful with the situation telling me, 'Hey, you know what? Don't try to push it. Get healthy and get better.'"

James, 36, has had two stints with the team as Derrick Rose has battled back problems and turf toe. James' 10-day contract has expired, although coach Tom Thibodeau said he may be signed again later in the season. James has averaged 6.1 points and 3.6 assists.

"There's always that chance," Thibodeau said. "He did a great job for us in both stints. Mike stays ready. So you can count on that part. And then if there's the need, we wouldn't hesitate to bring him back."

Nick Friedell covers the Bulls for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000. Jon Greenberg contributed to this report.