Torn Over Rip
BULLS HAVE SHOWN THEY CAN WIN MINUS HAMILTON
The Bulls got Hamilton to do what they weren't able to depend on anyone on their roster to do last season, especially in the playoff series versus the Miami Heat. They needed someone to stretch Miami's suffocating D, someone to make the Heat play them honest. Not a streaky shooter. They needed a guy with a name and a game to bottom out shots from 18 feet. To regularly score 14-15 points per game. That's what Hamilton was summoned to do.
But somewhere between God and Mother Nature, another plan was cast. The Bulls, throughout the regular season, have found a way to make it happen without him. And because Hamilton isn't always in the lineup, C.J. Watson has found a groove that he might not have found had Hamilton been 100 percent. And Luol Deng has forced himself to take -- and make -- big shots down the stretch on plays that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau more than likely would have ran for Hamilton.
Again, that's what they brought Hamilton here to do.
Now, against the Heat, I can't say that it wouldn't be nice to have him on the court. But because of injuries, Hamilton has become a dessert as opposed to an entree. Mentally, I think the Bulls have moved past depending on him to be the difference. What Hamilton has been unable to do, Watson feels that he can cover. Deng, too, knows he's got this.
His teammates' ability to step up doesn't make Hamilton expendable, but it makes it impossible for the Bulls to be too disappointed if he's not able to go when the Eastern Conference finals begin.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com.
BULLS NEED HAMILTON TO GET PAST HEAT
Do they need him to beat the Miami Heat in a regular-season game? Or a couple times in the postseason? No, they have obviously proven to be capable of beating any team in the league, including Miami. What the Bulls have just as obviously not proven is the ability to defeat the Heat in a seven-game playoff series, even when holding home-court advantage.
The acquisition of Hamilton led many of us to believe that this is what the Bulls needed to get them past Miami in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That Hamilton's veteran leadership, defensive energy and, most importantly, his ability to take offensive pressure off Derrick Rose, would be the difference from last season, when the Heat beat the Bulls -- albeit weakened by Carlos Boozer's and Joakim Noah's injuries -- 4-1 in the conference finals.
The sticky part of this argument is that we still don't know if the 34-year-old Hamilton, even fully healthy, can bring all those qualities to the court anymore. What the Bulls need is the Hamilton they thought they acquired in December and not the one who has played 16 of the first 40 games of the season.
But even a decent Hamilton would be better than none at all.
Without Hamilton, the Bulls' bench is weakened. If Ronnie Brewer starts, the bench mob's potency is decreased. And Hamilton's presence alone is enough to keep a defense honest and take some attention off Rose. Also, Hamilton, even less than 100 percent, knows how to keep the necessary spacing on court, can keep the ball moving and generally provides leadership.
It is clear by now that the Bulls cannot count on any real defense or honest rebounding from Boozer. And any illusion about Boozer's being an offensive force on the low post has long since been put to rest. Essentially, this means the Bulls, without Hamilton, will be going into the playoffs without having significantly improved from last postseason, while the Heat have seemingly jelled offensively and become more dominant defensively.
The Bulls need every advantage they can get.
Are they a championship team with Rip Hamilton? Maybe not. But they have to have him on the court to stand a chance.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.