Is Rip Hamilton the final piece of the title puzzle?


Dec 14

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Perhaps the question for the Bulls should be whether Richard Hamilton will help them Rip through the Eastern Conference on the way to an NBA title or whether he’ll Rip up the fabric of a potential championship team.

The Bulls announced Wednesday night an agreement with the former Detroit Pistons All-Star known as Rip. Hamilton, who negotiated a buyout with the Pistons and cleared waivers Wednesday, will be at Bulls practice Thursday and speak to reporters then. The Bulls leave after practice Thursday for the first preseason game in Indianapolis Friday.

Let me say given any questions regarding Hamilton and a rocky, rip roaring last two seasons in Detroit that I feel this is a very good signing.

No, Hamilton is not the ideal complement to Derrick Rose in the Bulls backcourt.

He’ll be 34 in February and is more a mid range shooter than the deep threat the Bulls might have preferred.

But this also was an imperfect free agent period coming out of the labor disagreement.

The Bulls held only a $5 million salary cap exception, which took them out of the running for free agents like Caron Butler and Jason Richardson, who sought more money but also were hardly perfect.

Jamal Crawford also sought more money, but has come up empty thus far. He’s got more range than Hamilton and is younger. But Hamilton is much tougher with an edge—he routinely would almost come to blows with Kirk Hinrich—and with the one year deal Crawford is seeking to go into free agency the fear is he’d be looking more for numbers to raise his value for 2012 free agency. Hamilton has little such incentive. Denver’s Arron Afflalo perhaps fit the criterion a bit better, but he is a restricted free agent seeking considerably more money and would have cost players like Omer Asik and Taj Gibson in trade even if he were available. Similarly for players like Courtney Lee and O.J. Mayo.

The contract is believed to be for three years at $5 million per season, though the third year is thought to be a team option with some guarantees, similar to deals signed last summer by Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson.

It likely means the departure of Keith Bogans, whose option probably would not be picked up if Hamilton is signed. Bogans is said to have various suitors as he came into Bulls camp in excellent shape after a rejuvenating season.

Similarly, Hamilton needs some resurrecting of his career and reputation. Hamilton comes off his lowest scoring season since his rookie year as he averaged 14.1 per game last season in 39 starts, most lost because of disciplinary reasons.

Those who know Hamilton well consider him a follower sort of player. If you have a good, high level, high character group he will fall in line and be a productive hard worker, which he was for six consecutive Pistons conference finals team that included the 2004 NBA championship. Nothing wrong with that.

A career 17.7 scorer, Hamilton routinely averaged around 20 points those seasons in being the Pistons top scorer, a relentless, energetic runner around screens for his shot and committed defender.

But when the Pistons broke up and missed the playoffs the last two seasons, Hamilton lost his way and became difficult to the point he was asked to leave the team last season. He didn’t deal with it very professionally and some felt he was helping create a schism on the team between young and old players.

But in good times with a good team Hamilton was a supportive, encouraging force with the Pistons, one of the key figures of their serious group.

While I have issues with guys who have been problems, like J.R. Smith and Larry Hughes, I don’t see Hamilton that way. First, the Bulls have an unusually solid, hard working group that a player like Hamilton would likely bond with. They don’t have a single problem guy in the locker room. Plus, Hamilton, former teammates and coaches say, never has been a guy looking to create schisms or a bad actor, but more someone who might be badly influenced.

That’s unlikely with the Bulls, and Hamilton has something missing with this Bulls team, a feistiness and toughness that makes a difference in a playoff half court game.

Another former Piston said the issues with the Pistons “were part Rip’s fault, part the team’s fault. Both had some blame.”

But Hamilton has been telling NBA friends he is excited about joining the Bulls. “He feels he can be that one piece that takes them over the top,” said one. Hamilton has been talking since his buyout about getting more open shots than ever playing off Derrick Rose. In that time, Hamilton has been doing his own due diligence. Some around the NBA say he has been asking a lot about Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and the players and the responses have energized him. He can be a guy who now with his side to side running occupies Dwyane Wade, who might have played off Keith Bogans or Ronnie Brewer, to crowd and help on Rose. “One thing he can do is put the ball in the basket,” said one former Piston. “And he’s a better pick and roll player than you think. He knows what it takes to win. The (Allen) Iverson thing really messed things up. But he still led in scoring.” And Hamilton did again even after the Pistons added free agents Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva in 2009-10.

Hamilton, obviously, has been in big games at big times. While perhaps someone like Crawford or Mayo or Richardson may be more athletic now, Hamilton knows well how to play at big times.

Hamilton is in the mold of Reggie Miller running around screens to get open and is one of the clever masters of using screens and all the little tricks you see with players now like Ray Allen to run defenders off or pin them in traffic so he can get open for shots despite his age.

And you need someone like that to play Allen and Wade in the playoffs. After all, those are the players you need to defend and beat. And a player like Hamilton gives you credibility with the referees as well as the opponents. At 6-6 Hamilton has the size to bother the top shooting guards and he is a player known for his energy and an underrated defender.

Plus, with the Bulls having Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, Hamilton doesn’t have to be a 30 or 35 minute player anymore, but one not only to play regularly but to play the crucial minutes in the big games.

While Hamilton will get to the free throw line, about five to six per game at the height of his career and 4.4 overall, he isn’t a dribble drive player and you do want to mostly keep him away from that game. Hamilton became a great player in Detroit after being traded from Washington where he was trying to be Michael Jordan and then figured out how to become Reggie Miller.

Although not a great three point shooter like Miller and Allen, Hamilton did lead the NBA in threes in 2005-06 and is a career 34.7 percent shooter, which is above the average considered necessary to shoot threes, 33.3. Hamilton will shoot the three better from the corner, where it is shorter, much like Luol Deng. Hamilton also is tall enough to swap positions with Deng depending on matchups, giving the Bulls additional flexibility.

In some respects, Hamilton is a gift because few thought he’d accept a buyout after turning one down last season. So him coming available was somewhat of a surprise. It’s not the Derrick Rose lottery, but his presence could also turn into something special.

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