- Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com columnist
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It's like nothing's changed. He still sits on the bench, during big games, anticipating big situations, relaxed, waiting for his number to be called.
And when it is ...
The Bulls miss Kyle Korver. There's the understatement. They probably miss him more than they miss Omer Asik. There's the truth. Any team that finishes second-to-last in the league in 3-point field goals attempted per game and is tied for 20th in 3-point FG percentage is going to miss the player who finished No. 2 in the league in 3-pt FG percentage.
The math don't lie.
(Neither does the Bulls' lack of production behind the arc.)
Now Korver's doing for the Atlanta Hawks what he used to do for the Bulls. Coming off the bench to come off screens and drop buckets from 23 feet out. And even while he's doing it in a different uniform, Korver still watches every move his former team makes. Not wishing he were back in Chicago, but wishing that his former team holds strong.
"The heart of that team ... that was a fun team to play on, man," he said to me before scoring 10 points and going 1-of-3 from distance in the Hawks' Game 5 loss to the Pacers on Wednesday. "I've never been around a group of guys that was so focused and committed every day. You know what I'm saying? Every day!
"There's a lot of guys that get up for big games, who get up for the playoffs and get locked in then, but (that Bulls team) was locked in every day. That was a special group."
You can hear it in Korver's voice and see it in his eyes when he speaks about his former squad that there's a part of him that is still with them. The divorce wasn't ugly or unexpected, it was just business. And for a guy that's been on four different teams in his nine-year career, he understands when it comes to contracts, trades and player movement in the NBA, hardly anything is personal.
Over the regular season, Korver's proven to be just as valuable to Atlanta as he once was to Chicago. If not more. The 2.8 points-per-game increase and 7.9 minutes-per-game increase over last season proves that Hawks coach Larry Drew knew/knows how to milk Korver for everything he's got. Just imagine how the scoring-challenged Bulls would have looked during the regular season with Korver coming off the bench averaging 10.9 points.
Imagine if Korver were playing for the Bulls against the Nets when he broke out of his playoff slump and turned in a one-man Bench Mob performance of 19 points and five rebounds in 31 minutes in that Game 4 Hawks win?
I'll say it for you: If Korver were still here in Chicago, the Bulls would probably be preparing for Game 1 against the Heat instead of limping into a Game 6 against the Nets.
But the reality is that he's not. With Kirk Hinrich being down and all of the offense running through Nate Robinson, Korver -- as long as his shot is falling -- could save the Bulls right now. I know, I know... the Bulls had their chance, but they didn't want to delve deeper into the luxury so they traded him to Atlanta and signed Marco Belinelli at a cheaper price.
When Korver thinks back on his time here, he keeps coming back to the specialness of it all. Even if they never got a true chance (especially with the injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in last year's playoffs) to see what that team could do, Korver reflects on what being on the Bulls -- playing on that team, for that coach -- literally did both to and for him.
"I can tell you that I think I became a better professional from playing in Chicago," he said. "You learn. You learn how to grind. (Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau) is a demanding coach, it's tough, but you learn how to do everything, every single day. You learn how to make yourself better, how to take care of yourself better. Not just getting hyped to go play a game but for how to be prepared to play every single night."
When asked the question that somehow can't escape the Chicago sports landscape, if he's surprised that Rose hasn't come back, Korver says, "Yes" but then reminds me that he was a part of the team when the injury first happened and he clearly remembers what both Rose and the team said from the very beginning.
"I thought at some point he probably would (be back this season), but I don't know why everyone is making a big deal out of it right now. Like, I know they've said from day one that 'Until he is ready ... ' he is not going to come back. From the very, very beginning they said that. They've invested a lot into him and he means a lot to the organization and he's going to for a lot of years so I think they are doing the right thing, I think he's doing the right thing."
Spoken like a guy who still has some Chi left in his heart. Spoken by a guy who will be an unrestricted free agent once the season is over. A guy who has value another city and team seems to have appreciated more. A guy the Bulls miss now more than they'll probably ever admit.
What's the old saying: One man's leftovers is another man's delicacy? Yeah, in Kyle Korver's case it's something like that.
So now we just watch from afar. As he sits on the wrong bench. In the wrong uniform. Waiting for his number to be called.
And when it is....
The Bulls' struggles from 3-point range have emphasized the absence of Kyle Korver.