With the Bulls facing an uncertain future trying to revamp a high-priced roster, a new revelation emerged Monday.
Maybe Jimmy Butler is a shooting guard who could play alongside Luol Deng long term.
During the 93-85 victory over Charlotte, Butler spent most of the second half at shooting guard. He checked in for Richard Hamilton at the 5:35 mark of the third quarter and played all but 30 seconds the rest of the way. He also scored a career-high 19 points.
Butler isn’t convinced he’s a full-time two guard, but he jumped all over the idea of playing at the same time as Deng.
“Yeah, Lu makes everything easier for everybody,” Butler said. “If there’s a ball screen, everybody can switch (defensively) out there on the floor. Then on the offensive end, he draws so much attention that it’s easy for me to get open shots. Or when I drive, he can space, because he can knock down a shot.
“I guess that’s the perk to having an all-star on your team.”
In theory, Butler at shooting guard could give the Bulls an impressive defensive lineup with Butler, Deng, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich and eventually Derrick Rose.
“Every guy you just mentioned, I think defense is their first priority,” Deng said. “It would take time — get more reps together, play more together — just like anything. But I like it.”
Ever since Deng went out with a hamstring injury, Butler’s improvement has been a major storyline. He averaged 14.2 points in five starts at small forward, then played well Monday back in a reserve role.
The 6-foot-8 Butler can defend, drive to the basket and knock down jumpers. But is he capable of playing shooting guard long term?
“Do I think he could play there? Yes,” Deng said. “Is that up to me? No. Jimmy’s playing well. He’s just got to keep doing what he’s doing. He’s just got to keep playing, keep improving.”
Butler, who seemed secure at small forward when drafted with the 30th pick in 2011, doesn’t think he’s quite ready for the role.
“Not really. To tell you the truth, I feel like I can guard a shooting guard on the defensive end,” he said. “My offensive skill set has to get much better for me to be a shooting guard on the offensive end.
“I’m working on it every day, before and after practice, before the game. I have a ways to go.”
In theory, Butler at shooting guard could solve some issues about what to do with the roster this summer. The Bulls have eight players under contract — Deng, Rose, Butler, Boozer, Noah, Gibson, Hinrich and Marquis Teague.
With those salaries alone, they’re already above the luxury-tax threshold.
But if they could count on Butler playing heavy minutes, maybe re-sign Nate Robinson and fill out the roster with minimum-wage salaries, it might be conceivable to keep this nucleus together for another season and save the shake-up for 2014.
Coach Tom Thibodeau wouldn’t commit to sticking with Monday’s substitution pattern, but he likes the general idea of having Butler and Deng on the floor together.
“From a toughness standpoint and quickness standpoint, it gives you an intensity that sets the tone for what you’re trying to get accomplished defensively,” Thibodeau said. “Depending on what the game needs, we can go to a lot of different things.”
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