Bulls

Back in old role, Hinrich's Wizards host Bulls

346618.jpg

Back in old role, Hinrich's Wizards host Bulls

Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010
11:57 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTONIt took a trade of the former face of his new franchise and an injury to the teams star of the future, but Kirk Hinrich is back to playing his natural position of point guard. With Gilbert Arenas now in Orlando and No. 1 pick John Wall sidelined with a knee injury, Captain Kirk is the Wizards primary ballhandlerthe formerly guard-heavy team now lacks capable ballhandlers, forcing them to sign free agent Lester Hudson, whom they waived after the preseasonand hes acquitted himself well, leading Washington to a convincing rout Monday over Charlotte and a frustratingly close loss Saturday to Miami, in which the young team snatched defeat out of the grasp of victory.

It might be a distant memory now, but Hinrich was once of the leagues up-and-coming point guards, highly regarded enough of a floor general to be selected to USA Basketballs 2006 FIBA World Championships team. Then the Bulls drafted Derrick Rose and Hinrich, always a selfless team player and possessing the versatility to slide over to shooting guard, made way for the young superstar.

As a shooting guard, Hinrich is undersized and not a consistent enough shooter or truly offensive-minded enoughas a shooter, although his point-guard instincts lend themselves to the occasional spree of overdribblingto present problems for most opponents as a scoring threat. On the defensive end, which has become his calling card, Hinrich gives his counterparts fits with his quickness and determination, but for most elite shooting guardswho usually possess a size advantagehes more of a pesky defender than a stopper.

As a point guard, while he wasnt on the top-tier level of a Steve Nash or Chauncey Billups, Hinrich, in his heyday, had excellent size for his position, his pass-first nature often created an unselfish team and often paired with Ben Gordon in the backcourt, his defensive talents made up for his backcourt mates shortcomings on that end of the floor with his ability to guard both positions.

Traded to Washington in the offseason to clear further salary-cap space for Chicago, Hinrich was third on the depth chart at his natural position to start the season and actually started his preseason return to the United Center at small forward, back when Wizards coach Flip Saunders was compelled to start games with a college-like three-guard set. He appeared to be clearly out of place with the Wizards, with Wall a jet-quick, shooting-deficient, ball-dominating point guard in the mold of Rose as a rookie and Arenas simply used to playing in a shoot-first, dribble-second, pass-third mode.

Wall will eventually return to the lineupalthough Saunders confirmed at Wednesday mornings shootaround that there was no change with the No. 1 overall pick status for the evenings gamebut for the time being, Hinrich is back to playing the position where he excelled as a high school All-American, a collegiate star at Kansas and the early portion of his Bulls career.

Im more comfortable playing point guard, Hinrich said at the Wednesdays Wizards morning shootaround, in a hallway outside the teams Verizon Center practice court. I feel like I can play both positions, but Im definitely a little more comfortable kind of running the show.

An understatement to say the least, but thats always been Hinrichs way. A Bulls fan since his youth in Iowa, his disappointment at being traded awayto a young, non-contending team, at thatwas palatable, but after so much speculation in recent years that Chicago would move him and his hefty contract out of town, he couldnt have been too taken aback, although if rumored trades to the likes of the Celtics or Lakers would have happened, the move would have been a bit easier to swallow.

Always a professional, Hinrich looked for a silver lining in the recently improved play of his team and claimed his focus is on the present, not the past.

We need to come out with the same mindset, same sense of urgency and go out there and share the ball, help each other on both ends and hopefully we can get a win, said Hinrich. Ive just been trying to kind of focus on us. I havent been paying too much attention to them the Bulls, except for yesterday and today, when were getting ready to play them. But just from what Ive seen, theyre playing hard. Defensively, theyre good. Theyve got some good players and theyre playing well, so its definitely going to be a challenge.

Its not so strange anymore to play against the Bulls. Ive been here for a while now and Im comfortable, so its not as strange as it was earlier in the year.

Being back in a familiar role certainly makes that easier.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Looking for culture reset, Bulls find themselves in the middle of more drama

Looking for culture reset, Bulls find themselves in the middle of more drama

It was supposed to be an uneventful and culture-resetting season for the Chicago Bulls, but that ended the moment Bobby Portis’ hand connected with the sweet spot on Nikola Mirotic’s face.

Now a light is shining on an unwilling franchise and rightful questions are again being asked about what led to the event, rather than the result.

Mirotic will be out four-to-six weeks with facial fractures and a concussion to boot and Portis was suspended for the first eight games of the season, leaving rookie Lauri Markkanen to man the power forward spot against the likes of Serge Ibaka and LaMarcus Aldridge his first two games.

Welcome to the NBA, kid.

It’s likely he received his wake-up call when he saw his teammates exchange friendly fire, though, considering the witnesses said Mirotic and Portis had been at it for awhile before Portis took one swing to conclude matters.

“Both players owned responsibility in the incident itself but only one player threw a punch. And that punch connected. For us, that is inexcusable,” Bulls Vice-President John Paxson said. “It’s not who we are.”

But when there is no discernable identity, and there’s a coaching staff who’ve witnessed these two go at it for well over two years you have to ask if this is who the Bulls are.

Not in the way of fighting but a team that collectively stands by idly while a situation builds and builds before it explodes, then is forced to clean up the carnage while having to explain and react to an unnecessary event.

Jimmy Butler, gone. Ditto for Derrick Rose. Tom Thibodeau? Dumped too before he picked up what the Bulls didn’t want in Butler on draft night, jump starting this process of the Bulls headed to Parts Unknown.

All have been blamed at some point for the state of affairs. Rose’s knees, Butler’s mouth, Thibodeau’s unwillingness to bend.

Butler took a tongue-in-cheek shot directly across the bow of his former franchise when asked about the incident involving his former teammates, saying “All I know is I’m not to blame for this one”, a nod to the narrative surrounding his trade to Minnesota.

Now who’s left to blame and what happens from here is anybody’s guess.

“When’s the right time to step in? I saw it on the best teams I played on, where you had that competitive spirit,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to have it to have any chance at all. So sure, looking back on it, would we have handled the situation differently? Maybe. I don’t know.”

Both Paxson and Hoiberg expressed the rightful disappointment in Portis while also saying Mirotic had a hand in what occurred. Portis will ultimately bear the responsibility, with his eight-game suspension coming at the worst possible time as his option for next season hasn’t been picked up yet, as it’s hard to see he and Mirotic sharing the same space in a locker room whenever Mirotic returns.

And if he is still around, it’ll be on the players to keep a team from splintering — as if the expected losing won’t be depressing enough.

“As teammates, we're certainly supporting Bobby and supporting Niko,” said Robin Lopez, a de-facto leader on a young roster. “We're going to let them know that what they did, the way they messed up, wasn't right, but we're definitely supporting them.”

Lopez, along with many others, said the confrontation has been brewing for some time, that the pushing and shoving wasn’t anything new. From a human standpoint it’s understandable to sense tension as Portis has been itching for playing time for two years after playing behind veterans, anxious to cement himself on a team that drafted a player at his position four months ago.

Mirotic came in as a golden boy of sorts, handed a starting spot by Hoiberg two years ago and given every chance to snag a starting spot last year before Taj Gibson aggressively stepped in.

His up-and-down performances were rewarded with a $12-plus million deal this offseason and although players usually don’t count each other’s money, they take note of who’s favored and who isn’t.

Mix in competition and ego days before the season began and it’s not surprising something was on the horizon.

But it’s up to a coaching staff to step in, as assistant coach Randy Brown did before the parties were separated in the hope things would settle down.

They didn’t, and now Hoiberg will start yet another season having his aptitude to coach a professional team questioned before he can call an official play or lay out a rotation — because Portis laid Mirotic out on the Advocate Center floor.

Hoiberg desperately wants to change the narrative surrounding his first two years, eager to prove his system can work and that he’s capable of commanding a team that plays hard and organized on a nightly basis.

Whether this is an omen or a random event, it certainly doesn’t bode well for Hoiberg to his detractors.

He stood to the side while Paxson addressed the media, appearing both bewildered and shocked he was having to address such a rare situation a little more than 24 hours before his season-opening cleanse was to occur.

“I’m very disappointed in what happened,” Hoiberg said. “Now, my job is to not let this moment derail us. My job is to get these guys prepared to go out and fight and play as a group, and I’m confident our guys will do that. They’ve shown that going all the way back into late August.

“I’m confident our guys will rally around each other. I’ve seen how much these guys care for each other, and we’re going to go into Toronto tomorrow as a group. We’re going to learn from this. We’re going to grow from this. We’re going to compete, I promise you that.”

It’s clear the Bulls want to extricate themselves from the past couple years and now recent events, but when things are swept under the rug they have a funny way of reappearing at the weirdest times.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Could the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic fight have been prevented?

bulls.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Could the Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic fight have been prevented?

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski and Vincent Goodwill react to Bobby Portis’ eight-game suspension and how the Bulls handled the incident with Nikola Mirotic. Mark and Vinnie also discuss how the injury and suspension thrusts Lauri Markkanen into the starting power forward spot and the impact on the rest of Fred Hoiberg’s rotation. Plus the duo previews the season opener against the Raptors.