Bulls rip, roarin’ and ready to go


Dec 15

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It’s been 203 days since that discouraging, draining May 26 night in the United Center. But now: They’re back!

The Bulls Friday again play NBA basketball, the first of two preseason games before the opening of the labor-shortened, 66-game season Christmas Day against the Lakers. The Bulls Friday visit the Indiana Pacers, whom they defeated in a rugged five game opening round playoff series last spring before the Pacers close the two-game preseason Tuesday in the United Center.

“The big thing Friday is it will be the first opportunity to go out and compete against a team,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau after a spirited, three-hour practice Thursday.

Thibodeau seemed fresh, which also suggested to me he hadn’t run much in the scrimmage with NBA officials.

“It gives you a baseline, where you are and where you have to go,” said Thibodeau. “It will be a good measuring stick (against improved Indiana). It will give us the opportunity to evaluate a lot of things.”

That may or may not include the newest Bull, Richard Hamilton, who practiced with the team for the first time Thursday and spoke afterward (his comments are in .

Thibodeau said the Bulls will have a Friday morning shootaround in Indianapolis he will treat as a practice (big surprise, there), and then make a decision on whether Hamilton will play. But Hamilton did admit picking up the Bulls plays, sets and systems were somewhat difficult at first. Thibodeau said he’ll use more players and get everyone minutes Friday in more the exhibition context and then play more of a regular rotation for Tuesday’s wrapup preseason game.

“We’ll try (Friday) to get a read in terms of where we are conditioning wise,” said Thibodeau. “I’m going to play a lot of guys.”

Perhaps it’s best to hold Hamilton out now not only because he just arrived — he looked in good shape, if, as usual, somewhat bulimic — but because there was some head scratching again over the old head band issue. We know from the Ben Wallace debacle headbands are not a Bulls favorite. It was apparent this never occurred to Hamilton even though he said he talked to Wallace at length about the Bulls (Wallace was positive, he said) or the Bulls as general manager Gar Forman said, “It has not come up yet. I don’t have an answer now. We haven’t allowed head bands. It’s something we’ll look into.”

It really is a ridiculous issue, though I have to admit all these headbands on players look awful. I fear the Bulls will allow them, which would then permit Brian Scalabrine to wear one. And this is not a good look for Scalabrine or basically any white player. I wore one in the 60’s, I’m ashamed to admit, and found myself then with not only hair but the curly kind often mistaken for Bozo.

Hamilton might be granted a medical exception on this, which may not get him out of practice, but with the mask he wears after several facial injuries the headband might be necessary to keep sweat out of the mask to keep it from fogging. I’m going with that story if I’m him. Look, there have been plenty of Bulls shooters who have been in a fog. Few have had meteorological reasons.

Though in talking to Hamilton Thursday he seemed more relaxed and friendly than I ever remembered him in Detroit, where he had a somewhat frosty reputation. My view was his brains weren’t being squeezed by that ridiculous headband. He was actually quite charming, joking about that “tweet” he made saying he was choosing among three teams as a ploy to throw off reporters. I heard one was New York, which basically didn’t have half the money to offer the Bulls did but believe everyone wants to play for them because of Madison Square Garden, which we know to be the world’s smelliest, most disgusting arena where you are likely to find more rats per square inch than in the local sewers.

Yes, and even when Anthony Mason, Charlie Ward and John Starks weren’t playing.

I saw Amar’e Stoudemire is already talking about taking some days off this season to rest and Carmelo Anthony missed practice after a knee procedure last spring. Yeah, how could you not want to jump on that championship express? Mike D’Antoni is going to love Tyson Chandler’s shot.

But the Bulls are not eying them as much as they are the Celtics and Heat, obviously. And it generally seems like a good start. At this juncture in training camp last season, Carlos Boozer already was in a cast. In an apparent edge for the Bulls, it’s virtually the same cast.

Of the 12 active players for the final game last season, nine are still with the team. Gone only are Rasual Butler and Kurt Thomas. With Hamilton in, Keith Bogans likely will be waived. But Forman said no decision has been made yet. The Bulls must decide by Monday. Omer Asik is also back, though he wasn’t active for Game 5 against the Heat after he was injured earlier in the series.

“I don’t know if (Hamilton is the) missing piece,” said Forman. “Rip’s got the ability to help this team. Our goal coming into the summer was to keep the core of this team together… to give them a chance to grow and at the same time Rip will be able to help us. He’s a proven winner at every level. And I think he’ll fit with this group. He’s been a guy who’s consistently scored in this league. He’s got a great motor. He moves without the ball and the ability to hit his shot puts pressure on the defense.

“He’s a guy who’s played in six straight Eastern Conference finals, won championships, is experienced and willing,” said Forman.

And so is Thibodeau.

We know Thibodeau doesn’t like to criticize his players. He’s more likely the guy after benching someone to say how many wonderful things that guy did and whether you believe what you saw or what he’s telling you.

But I do believe Thibodeau is relieved to have someone like Hamilton, who reminds him of Ray Allen. Thibodeau has been a huge fan of Allen’s and likely often lobbied for the Bulls to get him, though Allen has been unavailable.

“I think he fits with our team,” said Thibodeau, who a year ago was answering questions about whether he could even be a head coach.

Now opposing teams are asking whether they can find someone like Thibodeau, one of the new model coaches, at least if you have a lot of game tape to watch.

“He’s unselfish,” says Thibodeau. “Most teams will (double him) on catch and shoot and he’ll hit the open man. I like his size, his experience. You have to have balance (in a roster). We have young guys, middle guys, veteran leadership. The guy’s been in 120 playoff games. He’s averaged 20 points in the playoffs and he plays to win. He’s shown a willingness in his career to sacrifice for the team (lowering his scoring average). That’s what I’m excited about. I think he can be an important part of this team, a premier catch-and-shoot guy. We’re not asking him to carry the load for this team. I think he fits in. I think he takes a lot of pride in defense.”

Thibodeau said he’s undecided whether Hamilton or Brewer would start since Brewer has played so well in camp. But I’d assume it would be Hamilton. Not only for his additional offense, but Thibodeau always has said he likes the Bulls bench and keeping that unit together. Especially as it played so well later in the season with Asik. So I expect Brewer to come off the bench, which likely is better with his energy.

Thibodeau says he has no issue with the headband and no concern about whatever issues Hamilton may or may not have had in Detroit the last two seasons, though the organization did go astray once it brought in Allen Iverson.

“The past is the past. This is now,” said Thibodeau. “He’s played for a lot of coaches and had a lot of success. I’m not concerned with (what happened in) Detroit. I worry about him with us. He comes here with a clean slate. Whatever happens here, that’s how we judge him.”

And that begins Friday… or Tuesday.

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