Bulls

Bulls ready to Rip and run... to a title?

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Bulls ready to Rip and run... to a title?

Based on his past few seasons in Detroit, if you're not excited about the Bulls' looming addition of Richard Hamilton, that can be excused. Conversely, if you're most vivid memories of "Rip" are from his heyday with the championship-contending Pistons, it's understandable if you're pretty fired up about the veteran shooting guard potentially coming to Chicago.

But as for Hamilton's actual impact in the Windy City, expect the Coatesville, Pa. native to be rejuvenated as he's on a title contender -- as opposed to the past couple of lottery-bound, turmoil-ridden campaigns in Motown -- although it's unlikely that at 33-years-old (34 in February), he can match his prior All-Star level production. Nor is that necessary.

The 14.1 points per game he averaged last season was his lowest total since his debut year in the league, but on a Bulls team desperate for perimeter firepower, even slightly lower scoring numbers would be welcome. Hamilton is no longer quite the efficient shooter he once was, but his 38.2 percent shooting from three-point range a year ago (above his career 34.7 percent mark) would significantly help a team with few consistent deep threats, though it should be noted that the University of Connecticut product is a more of a mid-range specialist.

The spindly wing isn't necessarily the shot creator the Bulls seemed to lack alongside Derrick Rose last season, but his perpetual motion without the ball in his hands, a la Reggie Miller, is almost as effective as any dribble-breakdown artist, not to mention a severe irritant to opposing defenders who grow tired of the chase. Think about how Kyle Korver runs off screens for three-pointers: Hamilton would likely do much of the same, but unlike Korver, he's much more of a threat to put the ball on the floor and capitalize when the defense closes out too aggressively.

While it can't be argued that Hamilton is a superior individual defender than swingman Ronnie Brewer or erstwhile starter Keith Bogans -- if, for whatever reason, Hamilton doesn't come to Chicago, could the Bulls, faced with an increasingly shallow free-agent pool, decide to exercise their team option on Bogans by the fast-approaching Dec. 19 deadline? -- he's a solid team defender, having been part of one of the league's best units in recent memory in Detroit. Additionally, his toughness, experience, winning credentials (as Rose noted Sunday, he won an NCAA title at UConn and had to be pretty good to be recruited there in the first place, but unfortunately came up short during his high school days, losing a Pennsylvania state final in a showdown with some guy named Kobe) and perhaps most importantly, the respect factor that he brings to the table should benefit the Bulls immensely.

The acquisition of Hamilton alone might not be the move to put the Bulls over the hump -- with the loss of Kurt Thomas (who provided similar experience and toughness, along with a reformed enforcer's mentality, physical low-post defense, valuable pick-and-pop shooting and bone-crushing screens that were often the only way to free up Rose, aside from his own scintillating dribble moves), the organization's under-the-radar search for a replacement defensive-minded veteran big man with a semblance of scoring ability shouldn't be overlooked -- but it at least addresses several needs.

Regardless, Hamilton, expected to be in Chicago this week, assuming he clears waivers Wednesday, doesn't need to be a savior; there's already one of those on the team. He just needs to be Rip.

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

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USA TODAY

Emotional return to the court for Quincy Pondexter after missing two seasons: 'The journey is worth it'

Quincy Pondexter’s trade to Chicago makes him a newcomer. His birth certificate makes him a veteran. But it’s his story that makes him worth listening to.

Even in the eye of team chaos, Pondexter’s debut with the Bulls had such a special meaning that when he entered the game to start the second quarter, he thought he would come to tears.

Having been out of basketball the last two years after knee surgeries went bad, Pondexter came close to dying in a New York hospital in January when his organs began to fail after a MRSA infection.

Catching MRSA can often lead to death.

“It wasn’t looking good,” Pondexter said. “It was tough. I prayed. My family was there close to me. Being able to play basketball again in less than a year is crazy. It’s all God. This journey has been amazing.”

His journey took him from being in New Orleans, where his knee troubles started, to being an addition to the Bulls in a trade months ago when the Bulls picked up cash and a second-round pick from the Pelicans.

Pondexter joined high school teammate and close friend Robin Lopez on a team needing some leadership, and due to the punch Bobby Portis threw to Nikola Mirotic Tuesday afternoon, it put Pondexter in position to get on the floor as a backup power forward behind rookie Lauri Markkanen.

If the Bulls were smart, they’d probably put Pondexter in a room to talk to his teammates about his struggles, especially the two teammates who may have to share the same floor in several weeks.

“The competitive nature of our team has been really terrific and we wouldn't want to trade that for anything,” Pondexter said. “It hurts those two guys aren't here right now. But we love them and we love what they brought to this team.

“I think my age on my ID solidifies me as one of the veterans. When you do things the right way, that's what it means to be a veteran. Show up first, last one there. That's what it means to be a veteran. Establishing myself there and doing things that are right, the guys have followed and listened and embraced me and I love it.”

No word on whether Pondexter got teary-eyed when he got a breakaway steal and dunk for his first points since the 2015 playoffs, when the Pelicans were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the eventual champion Warriors.

“I know I’m going to get emotional on the court later on and probably tear up,” Pondexter said after the morning shootaround. “I told Robin that a thousand times. People don’t know what you’ve been through. There are a lot of times they’re not there besides your close family and friends. I appreciate them carrying me through this whole process.”

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg can relate to Pondexter, with Hoiberg’s heart ailment cutting his career short. When the Bulls coach speaks about the frailty of the game and how precious things are in the NBA, Pondexter is living, breathing proof.

“I’m really really happy for Quincy. For a time there, his life was in danger with his infection. I know he’s really excited to get his career going again,” Hoiberg said. “I never got that opportunity to get back out there. I tell these guys to cherish it ever day. You never know when it can end. All of a sudden. For Quincy to get this chance, it’s awesome.”

Pondexter, with the straightest of faces, called basketball his “obsession” and he felt happy to get back on the floor, if even for a few minutes.

“I love it to death. It’s my life,” Pondexter said. “Basketball is what got me through it---my family and basketball. It was like, ‘How can I make this story even better? Do I quit?’ No. I watched so many inspirational movies, 'Hacksaw Ridge.' They get you through tough times because you say, ‘That’s going to be me.’ I’m going to be able to inspire someone down the road. That’s really helped me.”

A hamstring injury slowed Pondexter in training camp, which would explain his lack of explosive lift in the season opener.

No one was really sure if the Bulls would hold onto him for the season, but it’s clear he holds value beyond the box score. When he finished his media session, Lopez turned to Pondexter and said, “Now you’re stuck with me”, putting his arm around his teammate.

“Being able to play after two and a half years, it feels like hundreds of surgeries, getting traded to this organization. It's been a lot,” Pondexter said. “I wouldn't trade any of that for this moment right now and how I feel in my heart. I can't wait to get on this floor and play with my teammates and try to do something special. The journey is worth it.”

Bulls Talk Podcast: Trounced by Raptors in season opener

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Trounced by Raptors in season opener

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski, Kendall Gill, and Will Perdue break down the Bulls season opener vs the Raptors. They’ll explain why Bulls fans should be very happy with the debut of rookie Lauri Markkanen and Kendall points out why he expects the Markkanen/Lavine combo to be great on the offensive end. They’ll also go over their concerns at point guard, and Will shares his story of how Greg Popovich dealt with a losing Spurs team in 1996-97.