Bulls

Hamilton turns Chicago into Rip City

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Hamilton turns Chicago into Rip City

After his first Bulls practice, a jovial Richard Hamilton made his intentions clear.

"I'm coming here to do whatever the coach and organization wants me to do. If they want me to come in and play 20 minutes, I'm going to do that," the 12th-year pro said Thursday. "Whatever the team needs because my biggest thing is I want to win a world championship. I won it once, had an opportunity to win it again, but didn't."

On a Pistons team that made back-to-back Finals appearances -- winning it all in 2004 -- Hamilton was part of one of the league's strongest defensive units in recent history, so adjusting to Tom Thibodeau's style shouldn't be overly difficult.

"Coach Thibodeau helped me through the whole time, the guys on the team were very talkative with me, helped me through different plays. It's learning a whole new, different system again, so it was fun. It's exciting just to be out here playing basketball again," said Hamilton of his first practice with his new team. "It's going to be an adjustment. Basketball is basketball, at the end of the day. A lot of plays are the same, but different calls and things like that, so one of the biggest things is adjusting to the guys on the floor, understanding what their likes and dislikes are. But hopefully I can learn fast."

As far as whether he'll play in the Bulls' preseason opener Friday in Indianapolis, Hamilton was unsure.

"We'll see. I learned a lot today. Today wasn't even basketball to me. It was pretty much like I was in college again, in class, learning all the different sets and figuring out where I needed to be on the offensive end, on the defensive end, the drills and everything," he said. "So, it was very confusing for me today. I thought I was going to come in and all of a sudden, just turn it on, but it didn't work that way."

Concurred Thibodeau: "We'll see. We'll treat the shootaround more like a practice, so I'm still undecided on that. I want to see him a little more."

"He looked good. He's in good shape, picks things up quickly, been around, he's a pro's pro, smart, high energy. He did a good job," the coach added. "I think he fits in with our team because of the fact that he's unselfish and he requires you to put two on the ball. Most teams are going to trap him on catch-and-shoot plays, and he'll hit the open man, so he gives us something else that we can go to. I like his size at that position -- I think that will help us -- and his experience. I think that goes a long way.

"I think you like to have balance, so we've got a lot of young guys, we've got some guys who are in the middle and then we have the veteran leadership, the guys that have been around. It's important. The guy's been in 120 playoff games. He's averaged 20 points in the playoffs, which is significant. But more importantly, he plays to win, and that's what we want him to do here," he continued. "He's been a premier catch-and-shoot player in the league for a long time. Now, we're not going to ask him to carry the load, but I think he fits in.

"Those teams in Detroit, they were great defensively. I think he takes a lot of pride in it."

However, Thibodeau wouldn't rule out the possibility of returning swingman Ronnie Brewer, who has excelled in training camp, starting at shooting guard, although it's believed that the second-year head coach prefers to keep his "Bench Mob" second unit intact.

"Ronnie has played terrific. He played great for us at the end of last year, so he's a critical part of our team," Thibodeau explained. "So, who starts, who comes off the bench, I'm not quite sure yet. We'll see how that goes and we're going to do what's best for the team."

Through one practice, Hamilton -- who said he was friendly with Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng before coming to Chicago -- has already made a positive impression on his new teammates.

"He's a winner, obviously won a championship, and he's going to be a great addition to our team," backup point guard C.J. Watson told CSNChicago.com.

From a floor general's perspective, playing with Hamilton should be a boon, Watson explained.

"Hamilton will probably be utilized coming off of screens, sort of how we use Kyle Korver. It's another spot-up shooter to take the pressure off D. Rose when he's in there with him, so it's going to be great to see them play together," he said. "It's going to be real easy. You've just got to get him the ball in the right spots and also gets you a lot of open shots, too, because a lot of attention will be on him."

Although Hamilton seems like a great fit on paper, the franchise is preaching caution when it comes to the notion that the 33-year-old will get the Bulls back to the promised land.

"I don't know if it's a missing piece. I don't know if you categorize it like that. I think Rip's got the ability to help this team," said general manager Gar Forman, who didn't give a clear-cut answer when asked if Hamilton would be allowed to wear his trademark headband, something the Bulls haven't permitted in the past. "He's got a proven resume, he's been a winner at every level, he's a pro and I think he'll fit with our group -- the type of guy he is -- and I think his game will fit with our group."

Added Hamilton: "Well, we'll all see. I love the game of basketball. I think that I can help this team is so many different ways and I'm excited about it.

"It was an awesome fit for me. When I looked at their team, they won 62 games last year, so they were already a great team before me and I thought it was an opportunity where I could help," continued the three-time All-Star, who consulted with former Bulls and ex-Pistons teammates Lindsay Hunter, Ben Wallace and Ben Gordon prior to signing with the organization. "I'm very, very excited, man. There's not too many opportunities to play with the MVP of the league. He is very special. He can do pretty much any and everything, and he showed it last year. I just want to help. I just want to be there when he needs my help, to have his back, be there through thick and thin, and be ready to ride with him."

Hamilton briefly addressed his tumultuous final days in Detroit, where he was reportedly part of a faction of veteran players who turned against ousted Pistons head coach John Kuester.

"I never had an issue with Coach Kuester," he said. "Everybody says it, but if you look in the media, you never heard a comment come out of my mouth; you never heard a comment come out of his mouth.

But when asked about his downward statistical trend, he answered, "Twenty-five minutes a game.

"Last year was last year," he continued. "Awkward, very awkward when you're with an organization for as long as I was and think that you'll retire there and now to be on the other team, it's different, but I'm excited."

Despite his age, the former NCAA champion at the University of Connecticut -- considered one of the most physically-fit players in the NBA -- believes his experience will pay off in his new digs.

"My game is running around. A lot of it is endurance, doing stuff that people hate to do. But I think that will allow me to play for a long time, so I just try to keep working on my craft," said Hamilton. "I think the only thing I lost was that trophy, when I was 26. Now it's time to try to get that thing back."

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”