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Al Jefferson returns to Charlotte Hornets on the bench

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Al Jefferson is back, but he won't be back in the starting lineup for now.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Al Jefferson's five game suspension has ended, and he will be making his return to the Charlotte Hornets in tonight's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite his suspension only being five games, it's been quite awhile since Jefferson has played with the team due to the injury he sustained right before his suspension. His last full game was November 27th against the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it's safe to assume he'll be a little rusty. Steve Clifford must agree, because Jefferson will be making his return tonight off the bench.

Considering Jefferson hasn't played in a month this is a good move by the Hornets to slowly bring Jefferson back into the fold. He's not exactly a beacon of health, and rushing him back to a starting role with a 36 minute performance would only earn him a trip right back to the injury list. Let him get back up to speed, and make sure he's healthy enough to handle an NBA game again.

Although the Hornets have struggled lately, and it might seem like getting Big Al back in the fold quickly will best counter that, Charlotte should be fine from an X's and O's standpoint. This roster has gone a full month without Jefferson and most of the lineups have learned how to play without him. They'll be fine with him coming off the bench. In fact, this might be the real future of the Hornets that everybody was talking about when he was injured/suspended. His role has been decreasing with the team for some time now, but his importance to the team is still very obvious. There's nobody on the team better at creating their own shot, and they can rely on him to get a bucket when they need him. Having that as a force off the bench can only make the Hornets better.

Of course, don't expect Jefferson to stay on the bench for too long. He's played great this season in a starting role, and coming off the bench is mainly just to get him back to NBA speed. He'll likely be back in the starting lineup by 2016, but these next few games should be a nice trial run into what could be the future of Hornets basketball.