DALLAS - Wolves guard Derrick Rose isn’t here in Dallas, though the swelling in his sprained ankle is almost gone and his return is very close. Ditto for Cole Aldrich, who remains ill, but is close to returning as well.

But Jimmy Butler is here. And, at today’s morning shootaround at American Airlines Arena, while the rest of his teammates were getting ready for tonight’s game with the Dallas Mavericks, Butler was taking another step in his return from Feb. 25 right knee surgery.

For the first time since injuring the cartilage in his knee against Houston Feb. 23 Butler was cleared for contact drills; he walked into the Wolves locker room this morning carrying a brace for that right knee, although a league source says he probably won't wear the brace.

This is a significant step for Butler.

“It’s the first time for him,’’ Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He will take some contact today, and then we’ll see how he feels.’’

Butler has been doing on-court work for a while, doing some running and a ton of shooting. If today goes well, it should give everyone more confidence in Butler’s ability to return before the regular season ends. But, according to Thibodeau, he’ll have to clear a few more hurdles first.

“It’s him being ready to go,’’ Thibodeau said. “I want him to have confidence in his body that he can go again. So, usually, what happens is you’re doing the on-court stuff. You start with non-contact. Then you phase in the contact and you build up. You start with one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three and then the five-on-five. And, after each step, you have to see how it responds the next day. So far it’s been pretty good.’’

Meanwhile, Thibodeau said almost all of the swelling is out of Rose’s ankle and his return – he will miss is fifth straight game tonight – should be imminent. Thibodeau said he’s confident Rose will get enough time with with his teammates to be fully ready to contribute for the playoffs.

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