Posted Dec 21 2011 11:25AM
CHICAGO -- Richard Hamilton looked ready to go. David West did not.
But that was OK Tuesday night at the United Center because the calendar was askew and Dec. 20 this year had nothing to do with Dec. 20 most years. This was still preseason basketball, a mere five days before Christmas. So in the true spirit of the holiday, both the Chicago Bulls and the Indiana Pacers tore the ribbon off their packages and clawed through the pretty paper to see what they had received.
Santa brought the Bulls a veteran shooting guard in an iconic facemask who, at his best, perpetually moves, hits mid-range jump shots, pesters people at the other end and is being counted on to make the NBA's defending MVP even more valuable. To the Pacers, the old man in red delivered a proven power forward, a potential 20-10 on any given night and, similarly, a source of offense that can make Danny Granger and any other three Indiana players better.
Besides, there was no keeping these two guys under the tree any longer. West hadn't played a legit game in almost nine months, due to the left knee he blew out in March on the brink of free agency. Hamilton felt like he was warehoused even longer last season in Detroit, a happy relationship that soured near the end and didn't do either him or the Pistons proud.
That added an element of New Year's to the basketball Christmas Tuesday.
"It was fun. It was exciting. It was probably the first time I've ever played with someone faster than me," Hamilton said, referring to Rose. "Trying to keep up with him every time he pushed the ball on the break was fun. It was exciting because you get so many easy baskets running with him."
Hamilton had plenty of fun running with Chauncey Billups in the Pistons' glory days, but with Rodney Stuckey, Will Bynum, under former coach John Kuester? Not so much. That might explain why Hamilton, six days after joining the Bulls in a buyout/waiver pickup, already looked reborn: 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting, six assists, four rebounds. Last season, Hamilton averaged 27.2 minutes; in his Bulls debut, he started and was four ticks shy of 30 minutes. He only had three games last season when he passed for more than six assists.
"I tell [Joakim] Noah and I tell [Carlos] Boozer, 'If you hit my guy [with a screen], your guy's going to help and I'm going to make the pass,' " Hamilton said. "If you can get your big guys easy baskets, get them flowing, they want to set screens."
Hamilton replaces Keith Bogans in the Bulls' starting lineup and, while teammates appreciate and might come to miss what Bogans did for them defensively in 82 starts last season, they know how much the new guy can help at the other end. Chicago amassed 30 assists on its 39 baskets Tuesday and hit 50.6 percent from the floor.
"He opens up the floor a lot," Noah said. "He's somebody who understand the game very well -- even in the locker room, just the way he talks about the game. Coming up to players and saying, 'Look at that. Look at this.' He's a great addition. He spreads the court. Very quick release. You could tell today, the ball was just hopping.
"Sometimes when you add a piece to the team, it can hurt the chemistry. But I don't feel like that's the case here at all."
Said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: "Good players are easy to play with."
The Pacers, surprise, surprise, feel the same way about West. He, too, was a former All-Star playing for the first time with his new Central Division team, a veteran expected to plug an obvious hole in the lineup. Only West's first game with Indiana was a more modest success; he came off the bench for a controlled 15 minutes 25 seconds, scored eight points, grabbed four rebounds, blocked a shot and picked up three fouls.
His knee feels fine and doctors have assured him he needs no brace or sleeve. Still, pushing hard later is better than pushing hard in a preseason game, regardless of the month. West played most recently on March 24 at Utah, when he scored 29 points before he had his season abruptly end.
"This has literally been my first six or seven days of basketball in nine months," West said afterward. "It's just going to take me a little time until I get my legs back under me. And obviously to get familiar with this team, with play-calls and things. But the knee feels great, man. I really concentrated on my rehab and stuck to it. I let the doctors do their jobs and tried to be a good patient."
Said coach Frank Vogel: "I want him to come along at his speed. Any time you come back from major knee surgery, you've got to learn to trust it again. ... I'm very encouraged by what he's going to bring to the table."
West, who was recruited heavily through the lockout by three or four Pacers, will spare Granger from playing out of position at times last season. He gives Indiana something strong going to the basket and, based on the Tasmanian play of Tyler Hansbrough -- 43 points, 24 rebounds in the two preseason games vs. Chicago -- he might team at times in a power tandem for the Pacers.
"West knows how to score the ball," Noah said. "He's a veteran who has played in big games. They're definitely going to get better. But we are too."
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