Multiple options have emerged at the wing for Thibodeau

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Multiple options have emerged at the wing for Thibodeau

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has one of those good kind of problems right now.

With the return of shooting guard Rip Hamilton to the lineup after missing nearly a month with a torn left plantar fascia, the Bulls suddenly have a crowded wing rotation, after reserves Marco Belinelli and Jimmy Butler both emerged as reliable options during the veterans absence, not to mention the fact that league minutes-per-game leader Luol Deng rarely leaves the court.

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Saturday night, it worked out for Thibodeau, as Belinelli led the Bulls in scoring while Hamilton worked his way back into the lineup and with Deng, coming off a sprained right ankle suffered in the teams Christmas Day loss to Houston, having an off night, Butler picked up the slack down the stretch by bringing his typical energy and timely shot-making ability.

But Belinelli, who was consistently solid in Hamiltons absence, was the story Saturday, as he seamlessly adjusted to coming off the bench again.

Marco was terrific. Hes been playing well for a long time now. Big shots, big plays, said Thibodeau, who noted that he wasnt sure yet about whether Belinelli would remain a backup, adding that Were going to go back and forth with that.

I think its his confidence. When youre new to a team, I think he was trying to fit in, trying to learn the system, but hes already proven to be a good player in this league, so you knew it was a matter of time, the coach continued. Once he had a better understanding of his teammates and his teammates had a better understanding of him, hes very good. He can score a lot of different ways. He can score in catch-and-shoot, he can score in pick-and-rolls, he can score in transition, he can make plays, so well try and use him a lot of different ways, but I think hes a lot more comfortable. So therefore, hes a lot more aggressive.

Belinelli himself added: I think just aggressiveness. I came on the court in the first quarter and I tried to bring to the team a little bit of energy on defense and offense, and I think tonight was good.

I think it was more important to get confidence in my shots, the shooting guard, who indicated he didnt care whether he started or came off the bench, as long as he got ample playing time, went on to say about his improved play since struggling early in the season. He was a little bit nervous, not too much confidence in myselfwhen you play a lot, when youve got some plays for you like pick-and-rolls, floppy down when you can create something for your teammates and you win the game, you feel good, so right now my confidence is okay.

Hamilton was supportive of Belinelli afterwards, suggesting that as a shooting-guard tandem, the duo could be an effective two-man platoon.

MORE: Hamilton makes his return to Bulls' lineup

Im going to put pressure on him to continue to play that way because we need him. We need every guy on this team, he explained. I always say when youre going to a team and youre doing a scouting report, and you say, All right, this is the guy thats starting and this is the guy thats coming off the bench, and you know youve got to put out a whole lot of effort against the guy thats starting and the guy thats coming off the bench, sometimes you can relax. I dont want that to be with us. When we go out and play, the guy thats guarding us, thats out on the floor, has to worry about both of us.

I think with him, everything has to do with confidence. It was opportunity for him to have to look over his shoulder, not knowing when hes going to come out. It was an opportunity where he was thrown out there and it was like, Okay, youre going to play. Regardless of if you make mistakes or you do well, youre going to play because we need you.

As far as Deng, the All-Star small forward said his ankle felt good afterwards and didnt take offense at the fact that Butler, his understudy, finished the game in his stead.

I really didnt mind. It happens, he said. Jimmy came in and did a good job.

Thibodeau added: It was just the way the game was going. I thought Jimmy gave us some energy and right now, were playing low energy, so I thought that energy was something we needed. His defense was very good and I thought Lu played well. Its just the way that group was going, we just rode it out.

Butler understands that he could be the odd man out on certain nights, now that Hamilton is back and Belinelli will take up the majority of the remaining shooting-guard minutes, leaving him with Dengs leftovers, of which there arent many on a regular basis.

RELATED: Belinelli, Bulls hold off Wizards

But the Marquette product is determined to stay consistent and at least on Saturday, he felt Good, knowing you can give Lu a break, for one. Hell, he plays damn near 48 minutes every night, so I know hes happy about it over there, soaking in his ice bath, but it feels good to go out there and play, and have him coach me up from the sideline.

One night I could see this many minutes, the next night, this many minutes. It all depends on how hes feeling and how things are going within the game, he continued. It definitely is, but I feel like my name will get called eventually. I know that. Well, I cant say I know that for a fact, but Im hoping it does and when it does, go out there, play hard, make a few shots and guard.

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win, Jimmy Butler starts All-Star Game

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks win, Jimmy Butler starts All-Star Game

Here are some of Sunday's top stories in Chicago sports:

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

Patrick Kane leads Blackhawks to win in Buffalo homecoming

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

Jose Abreu ready for 2017 after season full of 'different challenges'

Wojnarowski: Bulls-Celtics Jimmy Butler trade talks 'will loom over the entire week'

After surreal offseason, Ben Zobrist comes to Cubs camp in style as World Series MVP

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson out at least 10 days with foot injury

Fire score five goals for fourth preseason win

Simeon beats rival Morgan Park for city championship

Former Northwestern football player Torri Stuckey now focuses on helping others

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

Jimmy Butler: 'Hopefully I’m not going to get traded'

NEW ORLEANS — Every All-Star isn’t created equal, even by the slimmest of margins as the best 24 NBA players take their turn on the midseason stage.

So Jimmy Butler being announced among the first five as an All-Star starter had to represent some form of validation, now that he’s not a novice at the whole experience and he’s able to go through the motions of the hectic weekend without breaking much of a sweat.

But despite being a three-time All-Star and routinely mentioned as one of the game’s top 15 players or even top 10, he can’t shake the trade rumors that have seemed to follow him since this time last season.

As he finished up his All-Star experience at Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, clarity was nowhere to be found—although heading to some tropical island for a couple days to actually unwind with clear water and warm air seemed to be the best therapy if he’s stressed by the uncertainty of the next few days.

“What’s Thursday? Oh, trade deadline,” Butler said. “I don’t know. I don’t know. Am I anxious? Come on, man. I don’t worry about it. It don’t bother or scare me none.”

“Hopefully I’m not going to get traded but I don’t know. I don’t control that. Control what I can control, like going on vacation.”

Surely it has to be frustrating for a guy who’s elevated his game yet again, averaging 24.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals for the Bulls in 51 games. But he refuses to let it damper his All-Star spirits, playing with some of the best players in the world and a few guys he calls friends, like DeAndre Jordan and Kevin Durant.

“Not for me,” said Butler of the potential stress. “Not saying I’m untradeable but I don’t think about that. If I’m not in a Bulls uniform, I’ll give you a hug and say goodbye to you.”

Moments after Butler made his statement in the media room, the floodgates opened for the trade market as fellow Olympian DeMarcus Cousins was traded from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans for what seemed to be mere fodder, pennies on the dollar for the most talented center in the NBA.

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

While Cousins is far more of a handful than Butler could be, the trade almost signals a consistent truth that always bears repeating—that short of a select few, anybody can be traded.

Even a franchise altering talent like Cousins, who was traded to the city he was physically in for All-Star weekend, and included in the package of players was a guy who hit him in the groin last week (Buddy Hield), resulting in a Cousins outburst and ejection.

Butler has made his name with the Bulls, although not necessarily on the All-Star stage, a player who values defense and doesn’t have as much flash as some of the game’s shinier players.

With a six-point outing in 20 minutes, Butler was an on-court afterthought despite being a starter for the first time.

“Six? Should’ve gone for eight,” he sarcastically deadpanned.

In a relatively jovial mood through the weekend, Butler joked about the talk surrounding him and tried to brush it off as mere chatter as opposed to the franchise not seeing enough in him to make a firm commitment for the long-term, as the Boston Celtics are always hovering.

League sources expect the Celtics to engage the Bulls in conversations for the next few days, but nobody has a great feel for what either side is truly looking for.

But as Butler insisted, he’s only controlling what he can control, which is making himself a fixture for All-Star games to come as opposed to some of the first-timers who don’t know if they’ll get back here again.

“I think I got two underneath my belt,” Butler said. “I know what they’re feeling the first time, It’s so surreal like maybe I do belong here. That’s how I was thinking. Now it’s how do I get here every year? I think that’s the fun part, that’s the challenge. A lot of those guys have done it 10-plus years, hopefully I’m one.”

The only question seems to be, which uniform will it be in because the crazy season has begun.