Bulls

Is Rip the Heat stopper?

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Is Rip the Heat stopper?

I must admit, initially, I wasnt overly excited about the Bulls decision to sign Richard Hamilton as their new starting shooting guard.

Sure, hes a huge upgrade over Keith Bogans, but my biggest concern was over how much gas he had left in the tank after 12 NBA seasons, and multiple lengthy playoff runs in Detroit. And, oh yeah, his well-publicized feud with Pistons coach John Kuester last season that resulted in Hamilton being exiled from the team for a few weeks.

We all knew Rip was a great player in Detroit: three All-Star selections, six-straight conference finals and an NBA championship in 2004. But could he still play at that high level now, especially considering hell turn 34 in February?

Judging by what we saw in his Bulls debut, the answer is yes. It looked like Hamilton had been with the Bulls for years, operating smoothly and efficiently in the half-court offense, hitting open jumpers and finding the open man when he was double teamed coming off screens. Having Rip in the lineup should be a big help to Carlos Boozer, who figures to get several easy baskets when the defense jumps out on Hamilton.

Rip might be starting his 13th NBA season, but hes in phenomenal shape, and was able to get out on the fastbreak and run on the wing with one of the fastest players in the league, Derrick Rose.

The challenge for Tom Thibodeau and his staff will be not burning Hamilton out during the condensed 66-game regular season. Sure, landing one of the top seeds for the Eastern Conference playoffs is important, but it seems almost inevitable the Bulls will be looking at a best-of-seven series against the Heat somewhere down the line. If Thibodeau can limit Hamilton to 25-28 minutes a game during the regular season, then Rip should be fresh for a battle with Dwyane Wade and company come playoff time.

Hamilton is no stranger to playoff series with Wade, LeBron James, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce over the last 8 years, and hes more than held his own. Rip is one of only a handful of players to average over 20 points in more than 100 career playoff games. And, writers in Miami will tell you hes given Wade fits with his tireless running around screens on the offensive end, and 6-7 length on the defensive end.

So, is Hamilton the missing ingredient to get the Bulls past Miami and into the NBA Finals? Only time will tell, but judging on past performance he certainly gives the Bulls a better chance to match up with Miamis perimeter stars. When the Heat send double teams at Rose, Hamilton will be on the wing waiting to make them pay. Hes also not afraid to take the big shot with a playoff series on the line.

Long term, the Bulls might have been better off pursuing younger shooting guard options like O.J. Mayo, Arron Afflalo, Marcus Thornton or Nick Young, but none of those players has any meaningful playoff experience.

Lets face it, the Bulls title window is open right now. Given the uncertainties of a shortened season, why not add another proven veteran and go all in for an NBA title? The Bulls have some future assets like Charlottes No. 1 draft pick and the rights to European star Nikola Mirotic that might allow them to make a big-time trade, and reload in a couple years.

So for now the motto is: "Lets Rip and Run to an NBA title."

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.”

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

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USA TODAY

With Bulls-Timberwolves looming, Jimmy Butler is diagnosed with meniscus injury

Jimmy Butler won't be facing the Bulls a second time this season.

Butler suffered a non-contact knee injury on Friday night in Houston. The initial X-ray only revealed he didn't have any broken bones, but the MRI had to wait until Saturday.

The Timberwolves announced that the MRI revealed a meniscus injury in Butler's right knee. There is not yet word on how long the All-Star guard will be out of action, but if it wasn't already assumed that he wouldn't play against the Bulls, it's now certain.

Avoiding the ACL tear means avoiding the worse case scenario, but this is likely still going to cause Butler to miss a significant amount of time with about a quarter of the regular season remaining. An update from Shams Charania of The Vertical said Butler could return for the postseason.

The Bulls take on the Timberwolves on Saturday night. Butler dropped 38 points at the United Center in his return to Chicago exactly two weeks ago, but the Bulls won 114-113.

Butler posted on Instagram a reaction to the injury.

Saturday's game will be the returns of Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to Minnesota after they went the other direction in the Butler trade on draft night last June.