Could familiar face be Rose's interim replacement?

Could familiar face be Rose's interim replacement?
May 15, 2012, 4:30 pm
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Help wanted: Veteran point guard, capable of starting, but comfortable coming off the bench when All-Star point guard returns from injury late in season. Must be willing to play for defensive-minded coach, familiarity with Bulls organization and Chicago area is a plus. Salary negotiable, but hometown discounts appreciated.

Scouring a list of available free-agent point guards over the next few months will inevitably occur, but one player in particular fits the above description: Kirk Hinrich. "Captain Kirk," the erstwhile fan favorite known for his toughness, was jettisoned to Washington in a 2010 draft-day deal to acquire cap space in anticipation for that summer's free-agency class and since then, has moved on to Atlanta, where he settled into a backup role behind young Hawks' starting point guard Jeff Teague.

While he's happier than when he was with the perennially lottery-bound Wizards, from his visits back to the United Center, one gets the feeling that Hinrich longs to be back in Chicago, where he reportedly still owns a home. Hinrich is viewed as being on the decline by many, including even some in the Bulls organization, but his familiarity with the team, though many of his teammates will be new faces to him, likely acceptance of moving to the bench when Derrick Rose returns from injury -- after all, he's done it before -- and the fact that the price could be right for a reunion makes him a likely target in free agency this summer.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau has consistently expressed his appreciation for many aspects of the veteran's game and it's conceivable that Hinrich's toughness and willingness to defend would make a good match with the coach's philosophy. The question is, depending on the market -- the 2012 free-agent class isn't exactly rich on talent -- would Hinrich be willing to take a 2.5 million mini-mid level exception from the Bulls, who don't have much financial flexibility with four eight-figure contracts and nor much impetus to go over the cap with the punitive new CBA in a season where the team isn't expected to be a title contender, just to come back home?

If Hinrich taking less money from the Bulls compared to what he could get from a team in genuine need of a point guard -- not just a temporary fix, while a former MVP recovers from injury -- then it's even less likely that other available veteran floor generals, like Steve Nash, Andre Miller or Chauncey Billups take the bait. All sound great, but are probably too expensive for the Bulls and could chafe at being relegated to a backup role when Derrick Rose returns, likely after the All-Star break.

Two other candidates could be Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. Felton, though, is coming off a disastrous season in Portland in which he was maligned for coming into the season out of shape, whispers arose about him helping to turn the locker room against ousted Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan -- like Thibodeau, a defensive-oriented sort -- and after being talked about as a borderline All-Star with the Knicks before being traded to the Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony deal, had one of the worst seasons of his career.

Kidd, on the other hand, is an intriguing possibility and while money could also be an issue with him, at this juncture of his career, he's still productive enough to start, if not dominate, and he probably wouldn't mind mentoring Rose, in addition to being able to play with him -- Kidd isn't quick enough to defend the most explosive point guards in the league, but has the size to defend many shooting guards, as well as being able to allow Rose to play off the ball or spot up as a three-point threat, as he's become a much-improved shooter late in his career -- when he returns. Furthermore, while he was never the vertical athlete Rose was, Kidd was quite the speedster when he entered the league and had to retool his game after suffering his own knee injuries and undergoing micro-fracture surgery, which robbed him of his speed.

After the aforementioned options, barring a trade, there's a considerable drop-off on the list, with the likes of journeymen Shaun Livingston, Ronnie Price and Royal Ivey in the bargain-basement bin. None of those players are better than incumbent backup C.J. Watson, who has a 3.7 million team option for next season.

The view of Watson made be skewed after his sub-par first-round series against Philadelphia, especially his decision to pass the ball to Omer Asik in the waning moments of the Bulls' Game 6 elimination loss, but he battled through a multitude of injuries to have a solid overall season. Watson is already familiar with the system and the personnel in Chicago and is well-liked by his teammates, so there's still a possibility that he could return.

While he isn't a starting-caliber player, third-string point guard John Lucas III is another player to think about, as he would be looked at as a full-time backup if he was to return to the Bulls. The fan favorite certainly had his moments during the season, so there would be reason to bring him back on a minimum-salary deal, but if he was to get a guaranteed contract for slightly more money or a multi-year deal elsewhere, Lucas will probably be gone.