By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23 2011 9:47AM
Richard Hamilton needed a reset. The Chicago Bulls needed an upgrade. Both parties appear to be getting what they need as the abbreviated 2011-12 NBA season begins, but really, neither will know for sure until sometime next spring.
Last season, Keith Bogans started all 82 games as Chicago's shooting guard, a remarkable run that demonstrated a) Bogans' durability, b) coach Tom Thibodeau's stubbornness and loyalty, and c) Derrick Rose's extreme most-valuable-ness in handling two backcourt jobs simultaneously. It was enough that Bogans defensively could body up some of his matchups at that scorer's spot and, generally at the rate of one per half, drained a corner 3-pointer to remind the other guys that, oh yeah, the Bulls aren't playing 4-on-5.
It was a formula that worked well enough to win 62 times in the regular season, remind everyone of Thibodeau's defensive obsessions and vault Rose to his MVP award in part because of the load he shouldered for the Bulls. Come the playoffs, though, Indiana, Atlanta and finally Miami loaded up on the explosive scorer/playmaker. Bogans and backups Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver got exposed for being short on firepower, Rose's efficiency dropped and soon enough, so did Chicago.
Meanwhile, over in Detroit, Hamilton's mood and reputation were getting bruised by dismal results on the floor and unacceptable antics off it. Unhappy with his diminishing role under coach John Kuester, Hamilton was one of the Pistons veterans who took part in a boycotted shootaround. There came a time when the organization wished Hamilton -- a key part of their 2004 NBA championship run, a 2005 return to The Finals and six straight appearances in the Eastern Conference finals -- wasn't around anymore, and he felt the same way.
The Pistons and the player got their wishes when Detroit negotiated a buyout of Hamilton's final two seasons there. The Bulls got started on theirs by signing the 33 year old (he'll turn 34 in February) to a two-year deal worth about $10 million via the mid-level salary cap exception.
How much game Hamilton has left, though, and how well Thibodeau blends it with Rose & Co. at both ends, will determine if the move ends up win-win-win.
"He fits with our team because he's unselfish and he requires you to put two on the ball," Thibodeau said after Hamilton's first practice with the club. "Most teams will trap him on catch-and-shoot plays and he hits the open man."
Thibodeau knew these stats, too: Hamilton has played in 120 playoff games stretching back to 2003 and has averaged 20.6 points in them, a bump from his 17.7 career average. That suggests a dramatic improvement on Bogans' production (5.1 ppg in 16 postseason game last spring) and, potentially, enough pop to both help and unclog things for Rose.
"It's not many chances to play with the MVP of the league," Hamilton said. "This kid is very special. He can do pretty much any and every thing. I just want to help him, have his back and be ready to ride with him."
The Bulls' concerns with Hamilton have to do with his continued ability to run tirelessly without the ball, to cut, weave and come off screens like Reggie Miller or, Thibodeau's model in Boston, Ray Allen. He isn't a 3-point threat like those two, so things will be run tighter. And Hamilton's shooting percentage the past two seasons has dipped to .419, compared to .454 through his first 10 seasons.
Defensively, Hamilton is slender but aggressive. And if he still can move well, it will force Dwyane Wade, Allen and others to chase him.
Chicago GM Gar Forman, meanwhile, assured reporters that the Bulls talked to Hamilton and to others extensively about his rocky finish in Detroit. And Thibodeau said: "That's Detroit. I'm not concerned with that at all. He comes here with a clean slate. Whatever happens here, that's how I'll judge him."
Hamilton -- who was expected to get special clearance for his trademark headband on a team that normally eschews them, thanks to his equally trademark face mask that needs to avoid sweat -- was sporting a shaved head after various hairstyles in the past. What matters to Chicago and its fans is whether his game remains constant.
"My game is running around. A lot of it is endurance," he said. "Doing things guys hate to guard. I thik that will allow me to play for a long time. ... The only thing I've lost is that [Larry O'Brien] trophy when I was 26. Now I want to get that thing back."
1. Carlos Boozer has to prove that the Bulls didn't end up with a consolation prize in the summer of 2010 when they failed to lure either LeBron James or Dwyane Wade to town. Boozer came to camp leaner but has to stay healthy and regain both his lift and his reliable low-post scoring.
2. Derrick Rose has to continue to improve, an inevitable burden for the NBA's youngest-ever MVP. He has focused on post-ups and on leadership, and there's no reason to doubt him.
3. The Bulls needed another big man with the departure of wily Kurt Thomas. Thomas and Bogans brought some toughness that needs replacing too.
1. How good was Chicago's defense? It held opponents under their scoring average 59 times and went 52-7 in those games. When limiting teams to 85 points or fewer, the Bulls were 27-2.
2. With 62 victories, Tom Thibodeau became only the third coach in NBA history to win at least 60 games as a rookie coach. The other two -- Paul Westphal, 62, Phoenix (1993) and Bill Russell, 60, Boston (1967) -- saw their teams win six fewer games the following season. But the Celtics won a title in 1968.
3. Forward Luol Deng became Thibodeau's go-to guy, ranking third in the NBA in total minutes and fourth in minutes per game (39.1). Chicago was 22-5 when he scored 20 points or more.
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LAST YEAR: 62-20, 1st in Central
FINISH: Lost in Eastern Conference finals
2010-11 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2010-11 Stats|
DERRICK ROSE, POINT GUARD
25.0 PPG | 7.7 APG | 4.1 RPG
One of the quickest players in the league, Chicago native and reigning MVP Rose has no problem penetrating the lane, but will want to work on midrange jumper and shot selection.
RONNIE BREWER, SHOOTING GUARD
6.2 PPG | 3.2 RPG | .222 3FG%
Brewer might just be a placeholder till Rip Hamilton takes over here. Bulls were hoping Brewer would be a more full-service answer a year ago. Needs confidence.
LUOL DENG, SMALL FORWARD
17.4 PPG | 5.8 RPG | 2.8 APG
Hindered by injuries the past few seasons, Deng started all 82 games in 2010-11 and helped the Bulls as a slasher and with his proficient midrange jumper and defense.
CARLOS BOOZER, POWER FORWARD
17.5 PPG | 9.6 RPG | .510 FG %
Boozer was Chicago's biggest offseason acquisition but was slowed down by injuries. He has good strength and is an excellent rebounder but struggles with defense.
JOAKIM NOAH, CENTER
11.7 PPG | 10.4 RPG | 1.5 BPG
Noah serves as the heart and soul of the Bulls with his energy and enthusiam. A great defender who scores his points with offensive rebounds and tip-ins and can run the floor.
|Richard Hamilton||6-6||185||G-F||Needs to refurbish image on, off court after dismal 2010-11.|
|Kyle Korver||6-7||210||F-G||If shot's not dropping he won't get crunch time this year.|
|Omer Asik||7-0||255||C||Turkish Delight was missed at end vs. MIA. Stronger now.|
ADDED: G/F Jimmy Butler, G Malcolm Lee, F Nikola Mirotic
LOST: G/F Rasual Butler, C Kurt Thomas, G Keith Bogans
JOAKIM NOAH, CENTER
Noah had a disappointing season, torn by surgery on his right hand. Stats-wise he was in line with the past (11.7 ppg, 10.4 rpg) but he had been poised for a big step forward. The center's exuberant mood took a hit with the physical struggle and the Bulls missed that, too. With a rich contract extension kicking in, Noah needs to bring the game and the personality that earned it.
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