Bulls bring back Richard and release Hunter


Mar 2

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They were proud of him from little Utica in southwestern Mississippi, in high school in Jackson and then starring at Jackson State.

Lindsey Hunter became a star at the school that produced Chicago Bears great Walter Payton. He averaged 24 points at Jackson State after transferring from Alcorn State and led Jackson State to a classic overtime victory in the NIT to powerful Connecticut when he scored 34 points in the second half. He then impressed the NBA scouts with his tenacity at the predraft camp and shot up in the draft, eventually going to the Pistons at No. 10, where he was supposed to be the heir to Isiah Thomas’ point guard spot.

It didn’t work out quite that way, but it worked out beyond certainly Hunter’s dreams.

Hunter, 39, the NBA’s oldest player, was released by the Bulls Tuesday to make room for power forward Chris Richard. Richard, who was with the Bulls out of the D-League and training camp until the trading deadline deals, will help with the rebounding with Joakim Noah out with plantar fasciitis.

Luol Deng is expected back for Thursday’s game with Memphis. Deng, Noah, Derrick Rose, Brad Miller and Kirk Hinrich all sat out practice Tuesday (why bother?) with injuries and the effects of the long season. It’s a pivotal stretch for the Bulls, given the high quality opponents the next three weeks and the playoff race in the Eastern Conference, which has the Bulls among five teams effectively competing for four spots with Toronto, Miami, Milwaukee and Charlotte.

The Bulls currently are in sixth, a half-game behind fifth place Toronto, but just two games ahead of ninth place Charlotte. The Bulls appear to have the toughest remaining schedule with 14 games left against teams with winning records. Milwaukee has 13, Charlotte 12, and Miami and Toronto 10 each. Miami plays its last eight games against teams with losing records.

As for Hunter, he had just rejoined the team Monday after a personal leave to attend to an ill relative. He’s played in just 13 games and 122 minutes and averaged one point. But he was a popular mentor for the younger players.

And in his 17th season in the NBA, Hunter has thus far had a longer NBA playing career than Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Dominique Wilkins, John Havlicek, Jerry West, Charles Barkley, Elgin Baylor, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and his first mentor, Thomas.

Hunter still has to clear waivers and could be picked up by another team as he was contacted last summer by several teams. He has talked this season in various interviews about retiring, though nothing is certain. If he does decide to retire, he’ll likely move into player development with the Bulls.

“It’s the love of the game,” Hunter said when I asked him recently about staying around so long. “I really love basketball. I’ve never imagined it would last so long. I’m grateful. I’ve always tried to give back to the game by helping the young players. I’ve been blessed.”

Hunter’s is an inspirational story because he shouldn’t necessarily have had this long a career. He really wasn’t a true point guard and was too small at maybe 6-2 to be a long term shooting guard. But he always kept in great shape, worked hard and became one of the best defensive guards in the league and a reliable three point shooters. It enabled him to become a solid contributor for NBA championship teams with the Lakers and Pistons and play in 147 playoff games. That’s in the top 30 alltime in the NBA of playoff games played.

Not bad for a little guy.

“He’s always been one of the best on the ball defenders in the NBA, something not appreciated enough,” said TNT broadcaster Doug Collins, who coached Hunter late in Hunter’s first stint in Detroit. “I always felt we’d have a good defensive team and it all started with Lindsey the way he guarded the ball. He gave us a chance to be a good team. He was always one of the best conditioned athletes and one of those guys that made you a unique group. He understood what it was to be a leader and was tough. To watch him go at it with some of the best scoring guards was a treat. He knew about winning above all else. He was a big reason of why we could have a team that went from 28 to 54 wins in two seasons.”

Hunter joined the original Bad Boys with Thomas, Joe Dumars and Bill Laimbeer. He came in with Allan Houston and the next season Grant Hill joined. He and Houston and became a two pronged shooting backcourt with Hill playing point forward on offense and Hunter defending the opposition’s best guard scorer.

Hunter went to Milwaukee and then played with the 2002 champion Lakers before returning to play a key bench role for the 2004 champion Pistons, who defeated the Lakers who included Karl Malone and Gary Payton. He joined the Bulls when Hinrich was injured last season and become an emergency replacement and quasi-coach.

He’s scored almost 8,000 points in his career, prevented likely twice as many, and hit more than 1,000 threes. If he is closing in on the finale, it’s been a heck of a run. Congratulations, Lindsey.

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