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.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

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Three Things to Watch: Bulls square off against LeBron and the Cavaliers

Here are Three Things to Watch in the Bulls' Tuesday night tilt against the Cavaliers on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. LeBron James will be on your television

Love him or hate him, LeBron James is must-see TV. Now in his 15th NBA season, James has shown no signs of slowing down. Despite playing just one preseason game (against the Bulls), James has shown anything but rust in three games, averaging 25.0 points on 60 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds and 6.3 assists in nearly 37 minutes. He's a threat every night to do something you've never seen on a basketball court, His Airness included. Justin Holiday and Paul Zipser will have their hands full against the game's best player.

2. Lauri Markkanen, Week 2

Small sample size alert! But through the season's first week Markkanen and Ben Simmons are the only rookies averaging a double-double (Dallas' Dennis Smith has played just one game, averaging 16 points and 10 assists). While the Bulls have struggled through two games, Markkanen's net rating is third best on the team and he leads the Bulls bigs in rebounds per game and rebound percentage. Markkanen has shown some versatility offensively, and his 7 free-throw attempts have been a nice surprise as well.

3. Don't forget: The Bulls swept the Cavaliers last year

OK, so expecting a victory Tuesday night in Cleveland isn't smart. The Bulls will be underdogs just like they were in each of the four games last season, all of which were Bulls winners. It was the first time in 52 division series that LeBron James had been swept, which is pretty remarkable considering the Bulls were the No. 8 seed and the Cavs coasted to a third straight NBA Finals. We're not over here predicting a win. But just remember: the Bulls have fared well against James in the regular season.

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

Zach LaVine not sweating contract extension, anxious to get back in uniform

The Zach LaVine timeline for a Bulls debut remains the same, although he’s ahead of schedule in every metric of his return from ACL surgery this past February.

It doesn’t mean he isn’t angling for more work and pushing his limits to learn the offense he’ll be featured in, along with taking contact “here and there,” in his words. He’s supposed to wait nine months from the day of his February 14 surgery before taking contact, which would put him at a November 14 practice before the Bulls go to Oklahoma City.

“I should be doing contact really soon. It all depends on them,” LaVine said in his first public words since media day several weeks ago. “I’m pushing them as hard as I can, but at the end of the day we still gotta be careful. I feel great. I’m doing everything I was doing before. I’m pretty sure I can do contact, but we’ve got to stick to that schedule. But every day I’m just getting back, trying to as close to 100 percent as I can before I come back.”

LaVine was at Air Canada Centre getting a workout in before the Bulls opener against the Raptors and has gotten in heavy workouts on the off days with the assistant coaches in the meantime.

Sticking to the schedule will be on both LaVine and the Bulls, although both sides could be tempted to cut corners a bit. It would be human nature for the Bulls to show the NBA world their centerpiece from the Jimmy Butler trade on draft night, as well as LaVine to want to be the frontline player he feels he deserves to be.

“Yeah, it’s definitely hard. I don’t like missing games,” LaVine said. “Before the injury I didn’t really miss any games. I think I missed one or two in my career, so it really sucks just sitting there, not being able to help. I try to help as much as I can from the sideline. You know, give a little advice here and there, but yeah it hurts.”

He’s also in line for a big-time extension, having passed the deadline for extensions for players in his 2014 draft class. He’ll have to wait until the summer, especially since it didn’t make sense for him to extend unless it was a max deal.

“Obviously, I want to be here for a long time,” LaVine said. “And I feel the deal is going to get done, either then or next summer. I don’t have any fear in that. I think I know I’ll be in black and red for a little bit longer. I’m very happy and looking forward to that day as well. The main concern is just getting back on the court, get my legs ready and try to help the team as much as possible until then.”

LaVine was averaging a career-high 18.9 points as a third option behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, but will be featured in Fred Hoiberg’s offense as a first and maybe even second option, too—especially seeing how anemic the Bulls offense has looked in the first two games.

“With the team that we have and the system that (Fred Hoiberg) put in, we’re going to get up a lot of threes,” LaVine said. “When we’re on we’re going to blow some teams out with those threes. When we’re off, as the last couple games have shown, it’s going to be a struggle to score sometimes, but I think that’s where I can come in and help, and I can’t wait to get out there and start playing.”

Never lacking for confidence, LaVine hasn’t been deterred by the losing or even the unfortunate Bobby Portis-Nikola Mirotic incident from last week.

“We’re building something here. People understand we’re going through a little bit of that process,” LaVine said. “But we’re going to play and win. When I’m on the court, I’m trying to win. Wins and losses do happen. We can always take positives from both of those. That’s how you grow.”

As for Mirotic, LaVine hasn’t spoken to him but has sent texts—as it seems many of the Bulls have reached out to their teammate over the last several days.

“It was unfortunate. That’s what happens when two players are battling I guess,” LaVine said. “I don’t think either of them were in the wrong. It was just something that happened, an altercation. Men are men sometimes. We never should have that happen. But I think we’ve moved past it. Bobby’s in a good spot. We’ve all tried to contact Niko. I think we’ll all be able to move forward.”