Hinrich questionable for Bucks and Brandon Jennings


Nov 28

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The obvious story when the Bulls go to Milwaukee Monday to play the Bucks is the matchup of the 2009 Rookie of the Year, the Bulls Derrick Rose, and the early favorite for the 2010 Rookie of the Year, Brandon Jennings.

After exploding into the NBA last season, Rose has slowed this season after missing most of training camp with an ankle injury and having trouble recovering his exciting play. Still, he is averaging 15.4 points and 5.1 assists this season compared with 16.8 points 6.3 assists in his rookie season.

But Jennings has been the talk of the NBA with a 55-point game.

He was averaging 22.6 points per game going into Saturday night along with 5.6 assists and shooting a remarkable 47 percent on 31 of 65 threes. Jennings scored 18 points Saturday with four of seven threes as the Bucks lost 100-98 in the last seconds to the Orlando Magic.

Rose is one of six on threes this season after shooting 22 percent on threes last season.

The Bucks were a solid 8-7 after Saturday narrow loss. The mission for opponents against the Bucks has been to put their best defensive guard on Jennings.

Which is another issue the Bulls face.

Kirk Hinrich is considered doubtful—though still not out—against the Bucks Monday after a sprained left thumb. Hinrich did not practice with the team Saturday and was expected to see a specialist Monday morning.

The Bulls and Hinrich had good news when the MRI on the thumb Friday showed no ligament damage. That was the initial fear because Hinrich first said the injury felt like the one he suffered last season when he tore a ligament in his right thumb in November and missed 31 games.

Hinrich’s thumb was jammed during practice Wednesday in Portland before the team left to play Portland Thursday, which became the fourth straight blowout loss. Overall, 6-8 is reasonable for the schedule and number of road games. But the manner of losses in falling so far behind is a major concern.

And this isn’t a deep Bulls team.

The Bulls expect Tyrus Thomas back from injury in about two weeks while Aaron Gray returned against Portland Thursday.

Without Hinrich, Jannero Pargo would figure to move up in the rotation, though he’s suffered a variety of aches and pains all season. It would seem the ideal time to extend the playing time of rookie James Johnson, who should be able to play some shooting guard, especially against the Bucks.

Hinrich’s thumb—the left one this time—was severely swollen after the incident, but has progressively improved. There’s still pain, so the Bulls and Hinrich want to be sure and get an additional opinion and deeper look.

The immediate issue is Hinrich likely would have spent considerable time Monday defending Jennings since Rose hasn’t been very good on defense this season with his slow start, especially against a quick guard like Jennings. Plus, the Bucks have used an improved Luke Rudnour often with Jennings, which would likely have a healthy Hinrich on the court for an extended time. Without Hinrich, the Bulls would be at a tremendous defensive disadvantage having to use Rose with Pargo or, heaven forbid, Lindsey Hunter, who seems to operate as much as an assistant coach as player.

So would the Bulls make a move to get some backcourt help?

Likely no, and I agree.

I know coach Vinny Del Negro has talked about adding a player if there’s a long term injury. But it would be shortsighted to give up the team’s limited financial flexibility now.

Consider that last season the Bulls were nine games under .500 and turned the season around with a big February trade. The key to a lot of those deals is to be able to take on extra salary with teams looking to unload players and save some money when they fall out of contention.

The Bulls are committed to not exceeding the luxury tax, which doubles the salary of any player when you are over the tax line and eliminates the team from the pool of luxury tax distribution. So the Bulls have to work around that and they are about $1 million under the tax. The Bulls could easily add a player with that amount of money as end of the bench insurance.

But it seems more sense to me to have that money available in case you can make a key acquisition and need that $1 million to pay off a team or equalize the salaries. There’s no exceptions in the NBA and deals have been killed for not being able to match salaries exactly. But if you have that $1 million in space like the Bulls do you can absorb a salary higher than you are sending out.

Which is probably what this group of Bulls players need to understand.

There isn’t any help coming.

The first difficult part of the schedule is past them. Nine of the next 12 are at home. The level of play for the last 10 days was unacceptable. It needs to change.

It would help if Hinrich can play. The Bulls will have a better idea Monday, though for now they are not counting on him.

Time for Derrick to man up. It should be fun.

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