The rich get Richard
New Bull Hamilton's track record as a scorer makes him a worthwhile pickup
He's not a splashy addition, Richard Hamilton, but a wise one, perhaps exactly what the Chicago Bulls need, all things considered. Don't fool yourself, don't try for one second to make the case that the Bulls didn't need a new wingman for Derrick Rose because they absolutely did. To stay ahead of the Celtics, Knicks and Pacers and to have any real chance of overtaking the Heat, the Bulls needed at least one more player who could do the most basic thing in basketball: score.
Everybody in and around pro basketball has been saying the same thing about the Bulls since Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. "If they only had one more guy to help Rose." Not to rebound, not to defend, not to pass. The Bulls needed a player who not only could play off of Rose, but who could get his own shot, who could consistently and reliably hit shots in air-tight playoff games. If they didn't get one this season, they weren't going to win a championship, plain and simple.
But now they have one in Hamilton, a man who has averaged 20 points a game for 120 playoff games, something only Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan among active players can say. You want to get the downside out of the way first? Hamilton doesn't really stretch the floor; he's a below average 3-point shooter at his position (34.7 percent career). And he isn't a dynamic personality by any stretch. Hamilton's unlikely, his peers say, to take over any active leadership role with his new team because that wasn't his style with his old team, the Pistons, even though he was, along with Chauncey Billups, the team's best player.
Now for the upside, of which there is plenty. Not only has Hamilton always been a scorer, but he does it without hogging the ball and makes a defense work tirelessly to guard him. He's a more reliable scorer than anybody (outside of Rose) the Bulls had in uniform during the Miami series. Had Hamilton been on the floor when LeBron James and a teammate were jumping Rose just inside midcourt, Hamilton would have knocked down 12- to 15-footers all night. It's what he has done for a living his entire NBA career. He led the Pistons in scoring eight times in nine seasons, six of which ended in trips to the conference finals, two of which ended with trips to the NBA Finals, one of which ended in a championship.
One of the things Coach Tom Thibodeau must be fairly happy with is that he's also getting a two-way player. That wouldn't have been the case with Jamal Crawford or some of the other shooters available. Hamilton has never been afraid to play defense and at 6-foot-7 gives the backcourt a length it didn't have with Keith Bogans.
If you were looking for me to list "age" as a downside, sorry to disappoint. It's an asset. Perhaps you've noticed over the past, oh, 75 years; youngsters don't win squat in the NBA. OK, Magic Johnson led the Lakers to a championship as a rookie, but otherwise it's old guys who have had the success, so it's geezers you want, at least a couple of them, and the Bulls, especially with the departure of Kurt Thomas, didn't really have any. Just look at the Mavericks, the reigning champs, featuring Dirk, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and Brendan Haywood, all of whom are past 30. You're not asking Hamilton to score 20 a game or carry the load he did in Detroit all those years, but 15 points a game on, say, 45 percent shooting would be an enormous upgrade from Keith Bogans' 4.4 points a game last season.
Photo Gallery: Rip Roarin'
Rip Hamilton joins the Bulls after years of winning at UConn and Detroit. Gallery »
Nearly as much as a reliable scorer, the Bulls could use a guard who knows how to get away from a smothering defense, who knows how to make adjustments on the fly, how to calm young and perhaps overly excited teammates, how to make foul shots (85 percent) with a season on the line. They need a player who has actual championship experience, a player who knows what to do in June as well as Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen. Hamilton has that kind of experience and knowledge in abundance.
More good news: Hamilton didn't cost a ton. Okay, the Bulls would, I'm sure, rather have signed Rip to a deal for two years and $10 million instead of including a partial guarantee on a third option year, but relatively speaking, Hamilton comes cheap. Championships cost money. And it's not like the Bulls had to give up one of the bigs in a deal or had to part with one of their first-round draft picks. The most important factor in this compressed NBA season might well be depth, and the Bulls have as much of it as any team in the league, even with Thomas departing for Portland.
Hamilton joins Rose, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng to give the Bulls a pretty complete starting five. They'll be fortified by Taj Gibson, Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver coming off the bench. That's 10 players, all of whom play regularly in familiar roles every night. It's important that Hamilton isn't the kind of player who's going to disrupt the team either on the floor or in the locker room, in a season with an abbreviated training camp and precious little time to make major adjustments before the schedule is in full swing.
(I'm not in the camp with those who think the Bulls ought to break up the team to trade for Dwight Howard. That's like turning the car around and going to the garage to overhaul the engine. Acquiring Hamilton, on the other hand, is like making a pit stop for gas and some air in the tires. A trade for Howard, if he could be had, would change the timeline for trying to win a championship, pushing the Bulls back at least one full season.)
It has to be mentioned that Hamilton had issues with his coach, John Kuester, last season, which must have given Gar Forman and John Paxson pause when pondering the club's options. The Pistons, though, were such a mess that Kuester has to accept a big share of the blame. Thing is, in all the years before that, in Detroit, in Washington where he was drafted out of college, and at UConn, Hamilton had been the consummate professional. He was a drama-free player long enough to get the benefit of the doubt. Look, if Hamilton was obsessed with getting "his shots" and didn't want to play defense, he wouldn't have been interested in joining the Bulls. Hamilton played against the Bulls last year and has played against Thibs' defense for years; he knows exactly what's going to be demanded of him.
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The pipe dream, as we approach the Christmas season, might have been waking up one morning and finding Arron Afflalo in a package under the tree. Everybody other than Jason Richardson (who got $11 million more) has issues. Nick Young, for instance, may be on his way to becoming a consistent 20-point scorer but he plays no defense and has no experience of consequence in postseason games.
So, if you want to say the Bulls made the safe pick, fine. You'd be right. As this strangest of seasons begins, the Bulls are getting a player low on acrobatics but high on nuance and subtlety -- and putting the ball in the basket. Rip Hamilton has scored all his life and can probably score in his sleep. The bet here is he's going to be the player who allows the Bulls every reasonable chance to travel the distance between contender and champ.
Michael Wilbon is a featured columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. He is the longtime co-host of "Pardon the Interruption" on ESPN. Wilbon joined ESPN.com after three decades with The Washington Post, where he earned a reputation as one of the nation's most respected sports journalists.