CHICAGO — One of the most talked about players at Bulls’ Media Day on Sunday wasn’t even on the roster – or at least not yet. Richard Hamilton commanded quite an amount of attention at the Berto Center, as the former All-Star guard awaits a buyout to be finalized with the Detroit Pistons. Once he clears waivers, presumably in the next 48 hours, Hamilton will be free to sign with any team, and multiple reports having him Chicago-bound.
Based on the way things went down for the Bulls during the postseason, Hamilton would be a welcome addition.
Time and again this offseason, reigning league MVP Derrick Rose has willingly shouldered the blame for the Bulls’ inability to get past the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. While the Heat won the series, 4-1, the Bulls either led or were within a handful of points heading into each fourth quarter. Outside of Rose down the stretch, the Bulls’ offensive options were extremely limited. There was only so much the league’s youngest MVP could do. Chicago’s Game 1 victory notwithstanding, the Bulls’ were outscored in the series’ remaining four fourth quarters by an average of 22.5-16.25.
Enter Hamilton who, if you discard his rocky two previous seasons in Detroit, has been one of the league’s most efficient midrange scorers. Give Rose and Co. a proven scoring two-guard for the playoffs – Chicago usually went with a shooting guard by committee in postseason fourth quarters – and the Bulls would be in a better position to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since the Jordan era.
What kind of player would the Bulls be getting in Hamilton?
What we know for certain is that the man who goes simply by “Rip” would be as motivated as ever. Hamilton already has a championship ring to his name and his window of opportunity for another won’t remain open for much longer.
Consider his last three seasons in Detroit: after signing the richest contract in Pistons’ history, Hamilton played under two rookie head coaches in Michael Curry and John Kuester. Under the former, Hamilton saw his best friend and backcourt mate, Chauncey Billups, traded for Allen Iverson, a player on the downward trajectory of his career yet one who Hamilton was forced to adjust to playing alongside – not the other way around. Under Kuester, Hamilton had to play with the shoot-first, pass-second Rodney Stuckey, which presented its own set of problems. Hamilton’s ensuing fallout with Kuester was a sour ending to an otherwise memorable nine years in Detroit.
A fresh start is clearly just what Hamilton needs to get his mind right.
How much juice Hamilton, a 12-year veteran, has remaining is a fair question, although his decline in scoring last season was due more to an inconsistent role than it was an eroding skill set. He has a career shooting percentage of 45% from the field but in his prime – when he had fellow All-Star Billups as a backcourt mate – he was hovering in the high 46% to 49% range in shooting percentage.
So it wasn’t long ago when Hamilton was widely considered one of the toughest covers in the league. Speaking from experience – I covered him in person as a member of the Detroit media for three seasons – Hamilton is a human Energizer bunny. Seldom will you see him stand still in half court sets. The wiry 6-6 guard is always in motion, running his opponent through and off one screen after another. He knew how to put himself in a position to be successful, and playing with a heady point guard like Billups, who knew how to set him up, made Hamilton a tough cover nearly every possession.
Hamilton’s ability to spread the floor and keep his defender honest will automatically alleviate pressure from Rose while simultaneously giving the lightning-quick point guard more opportunities to attack the lane. Hamilton’s addition would be a huge wrinkle added to a Bulls’ offense that ranked 20th in scoring (98.2 points) and 13th in shooting percentage (46.2%).
“For us to get him, I think he would be great,” Rose said on Sunday. “He’s always in perfect shape, running around, especially for his age. He has the experience. He’s a winner….If anything, I know that he would help us if we get him.”
Surely, Hamilton isn’t the same player he was a few years ago, but he’s long prided himself on his offseason conditioning. Daily runs with his two pet pit bulls are common. In an interview with Runners World magazine a few years ago, Hamilton described himself as the type of runner who runs to exhaustion.
While he’s no Bruce Bowen on the defensive end, Hamilton is well-versed in team defense, thanks to those years playing under Larry Brown and when the Pistons were synonymous with defensive basketball.
And in terms of whether Hamilton would be a good fit chemistry-wise – given all that went down with his previous two coaches in Detroit – let’s just say that Bulls General Manager Gar Forman wouldn’t sacrifice locker room chemistry for talent. Not with how far the Bulls got last season and how much potential the team has as it stands.
Luol Deng, who has known Hamilton since he was 14, said the one thing he knows about the shooting guard is that he’s well-liked in the locker room.
“I think if Rip was to come here, he’d be a great guy in the locker room,” Deng said on Sunday. “I think he’s a great teammate, knowing that from the guys in Detroit, they loved to play with him. He’s a guy that won a championship. He’s been there. He knows what it takes, and I believe if he was to join us he I believe he would make us better.”
Chris Silva covers the Chicago Bulls for SheridanHoops.com. Previously, he spent three years on the Pistons beat for the Detroit Free Press, then 2 1/2 seasons in Oklahoma City as writing for thunder.nba.com. Follow him on Twitter.