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."