As the Bulls tried to regain their balance in the wake of another devastating loss of their franchise player, D.J. Augustin was sitting on the bench in Toronto, a former lottery pick in 2008 unable to crack the Raptors' rotation. He appeared in just 10 games with the Raptors, averaging just 8.2 minutes a game before being released Dec. 9.
But his release turned out to be a stroke of luck for Augustin and the Bulls. Looking for depth at guard with Rose lost for another season, the 8-12 Bulls signed Augustin on Dec. 13. Now the Bulls, who went 40-22 since he signed, begin the playoffs Sunday against the Washington Wizards as one of the NBA's hottest teams. And Augustin, who just four months ago appeared to be bound for journeyman status, has played a major role.
"We knew D.J. was a pro," Bulls executive vice president John Paxson said Friday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "He had two really good years in Charlotte, averaging double figures, that type of thing. But somehow, and it happens with players sometimes in this league, they go to different teams and they kind of get lost in the shuffle. The stars kind of aligned for him and us with Derrick's injury and him not playing any minutes in Toronto and them letting him go, we were in a position to sell to him that he would have an opportunity to play significant minutes."
He only started nine games, but Augustin proved to be the playmaker the Bulls needed, leading the team in scoring at 14.9 points a game and was second in assists with 5.0 a game.
"Much like Nate Robinson last year, D.J. has won us a ton of games and in many ways made this season what it is," Paxson said. "It's a credit to him as an individual player to come here, accept and embrace the opportunity and then to respond and to perform and his performance has been terrific. You always like guys that are fearless, and he's that way. He'll take big shots, he'll make them, you can put the ball in his hands and most times he's going to make the right decision.
"When you look back on it, he did start some games when Kirk was out for a little bit," Paxson said, "but for the most part he's been coming off the bench, playing about 25-30 minutes a game and he's averaging almost 15 points a game in that role for us. It's been a special year for him and we wouldn't be where we are without him."
As lucky as both parties were to find each other in December, the fortune likely will change for the Bulls in the offseason when it comes to Augustin. Playing on a one-year deal, Augustin, like Robinson last summer, should be in demand as a free agent and might have priced himself out of the Bulls' budget with his comeback season.
"We hope so certainly that we can sign him, but he's not under contract next year and there will be a market for him," Paxson said. "He's had a spectacular year."