- Melissa Isaacson, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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It sure seems longer than two years ago that Kirk Hinrich left the Bulls.
But then it feels like a lot of things that occurred in July of 2010 were from another sports lifetime. On the South Side that same week, the White Sox were announcing that Jake Peavy was done for the season, opting for radical surgery on his decimated lat muscle; while in L.A., Lou Piniella was ejected in a Cubs' win over the Dodgers; Jonathan Toews took the Stanley Cup home to Winnipeg; Bears fans were eagerly anticipating Mike Martz's first training camp as the Bears' offensive coordinator; and Dwyane Wade had just rejected an offer to play for his hometown team to stay with the Heat.
The Hinrich news was not exactly lost so much as it just wasn't that earth-shattering. Although the perennial Bulls captain no doubt deserved better than to be shipped to one of the worst teams in the league in a draft night salary dump, there simply was nothing sentimental about it.
LeBron James had yet to make "The Decision," and the Bulls were still in the hunt for a mega free agent.
Hinrich had become a backup to Derrick Rose, who had been selected to his first All-Star team in his second NBA season and had once again displayed greatness in another first-round playoff loss by the Bulls.
The future appeared boundless because it was. And now, two years later, it feels like the Bulls are going back in time with Monday's official announcement of the signing of Hinrich to a two-year, $6 million contract. In advance of that news, as well as the signings of Vladimir Radmanovic and the imminent agreements with Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammed, Bulls fans are surely dazed and confused, and you can hardly blame them.
But the anger toward the Bulls for somehow failing to be more aggressive in bringing in someone better (re: more expensive) is misguided.
There is no debating that Rose's injury is an enormous blow, the immediate ramifications devastating in light of where the team was some three months ago. And while it will take years before it can be put into perspective, it is certain that the chances of seriously challenging for the NBA title next season are now remote.
But who are we blaming here? And where do we start?
The Bulls did everything they could to go after James, Wade and Chris Bosh but that was never happening. Nor was any scenario that involved Dwight Howard, though trying to predict anything concerning Howard is perilous. Now they need a guard and an experienced floor leader, and Hinrich is a feasible and financially prudent option, a reliable stopgap for a season in which staying afloat should not be viewed as giving up.
Sure, it's easy to be bitter while other teams seem to improve themselves, though ask Brooklyn fans how all that earlier giddiness has been working out. And would Jason Kidd or Ray Allen have been a better fit for the Bulls? Would they have made the Bulls a contender next season?
The only legitimate frustration for me keeps drifting back to the Bulls' Plan B of two years ago. But while Carlos Boozer's cap-eating salary has exceeded his total contribution and made him untradeable, it's still hard to criticize the acquisition too much, given their options at the time.
While the chances of the 2011-12 team winning the NBA title next season may appear nonexistent, the window on a future with one of the best players in the league is still wide open. There will be other free-agent opportunities, other teams will grow older, fate will intervene again and in ways nobody can predict.
The 2013 free-agent class may include Howard, Chris Paul and Andrew Bynum as well as Al Jefferson and Kevin Martin. Restricted free agents include James Harden and Serge Ibaka, one of whom the Thunder will surely have to let go. And the 2014 class, which could include Luol Deng, is on the aged side, but still has James, Wade, Bosh, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Amare Stoudemire, Pau Gasol, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Andrew Bogut potentially available.
Bulls season-ticket holders certainly can't be blamed for not wanting to shell out major bucks to see a team this season that isn't a title contender, but they have shown up for much less -- like ironically during much of Hinrich's previous Bulls career. And what they will get in return is a team that surely will continue to play hard.
On that front, while a great bench has never won an NBA title, it has certainly contributed. And if Tom Thibodeau can create what he did with the players he has had the past two years, there is no reason to believe John Paxson and Gar Forman have not begun to give him the ingredients to do it again.
Meanwhile, Hinrich will fit right in, be able to implement Thibodeau's principles, and once again be a mentor for younger players. He may not be an especially exciting acquisition, but having a known quantity while so much else is unknown is a positive. And while no one is going to have a parade for his signing, it's neither his fault nor the team's that Rose was injured.
The Bulls have gone back in time with the addition of Kirk Hinrich.