MIAMI — If his 11-point outing in Monday’s Game 4 blowout loss didn’t do the trick, then certainly Rip Hamilton’s 15 points in a season-high 35 minutes should have proved that the veteran shooting guard can still play.
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Sure, Hamilton was plagued with injuries during his two-year tenure in Chicago, but the former two-time All-Star and NBA champion with the Pistons is still capable of competing at a high level and of course, knocking down his trademark mid-range jumper.
He just didn’t have much of a chance to show it during the playoffs, which he maintains is why the Bulls signed him just after the NBA lockout ended.
“It’s crazy because playing 19 straight minutes, I haven’t done that all season. Playing in the fourth quarter, I haven’t done that all season,” Hamilton said. “But it’s just one of those things, where you’ve just got to deal with it. You’ve just got to be able to respond.”
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Hamilton, who served as a mentor behind the scenes, even when he wasn’t playing, credited his teammates for keeping him upbeat during the difficulty of logging multiple DNP’s in the postseason.
“My teammates, they’ve been great. They’ve been great for me, especially over these last two weeks, just staying positive with me and things like that, so I couldn’t let them see me sweat. It’s just one of those things that when you get the opportunity, just go out there and perform,” he explained. “I have great guys here. That’s what made my job fun. Even though they last two weeks were hard, difficult, my teammates have been great, all the way from Derrick to Luol, to Booz, to Noah, to Jimmy. Everybody was so supportive, I was just like dumbfounded about the situation. But they kept me going. They kept me positive.”
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Carlos Boozer went out of his way to single out Hamilton after the Bulls’ Game 5 loss to the Heat, which eliminated them from the postseason Wednesday night.
“Rip Hamilton was a huge help for us,” Boozer said. “I was really proud of Rip for hanging in there with a tough season, almost being forgotten about and then coming in and giving us a huge lift, making the game easier for us.”
Playing against longtime foes Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen, Hamilton was effective as a scorer, drawing the defense as a decoy and ensuring that the Bulls had good ball movement.
At the same time, while he asserted that he doesn’t know what the Bulls’ plans for him are this summer — the team has a $5 million option for him next season; only $1 million is guaranteed — Hamilton is unlikely to be back in Chicago.
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“I have no idea. I don’t read the paper, I haven’t talked to them about it, but who knows what direction they’re going in,” he explained. “At first, with me not playing, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, the writing’s on the wall,’ especially when you’re not playing for the reason why they brought you here, but it is what it is.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau acknowledged Hamilton’s contributions Wednesday, but after essentially choosing Marco Belinelli to play over him during the first round of the playoffs — and not looking back, even after All-Star small forward Luol Deng was sidelined, which shifted swingman Jimmy Butler over to small forward — the coach was reluctant to admit that he could have went to the shooting guard earlier in the playoffs.
“He played well today and you’ve got to make decisions that you think are best for the team, and that’s what I did,” Thibodeau said. “You have to look at how the team functions. He did a good job today and give him credit. He’s a pro. That’s what he’s paid to do, so that’s where that is.”
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Regardless of his future in Chicago, Hamilton wants to continue his NBA career and with his unique, perpetual-motion, mid-range game, it’s easy to envision the scorer on a veteran, contending team as a key rotation player.
“A good situation,” Hamilton said he desired. “I’ll see, I’ll assess it, but it’s just one of those things I’ll take two at a time. I saw Reggie [Miller] do it until he was like 40.
“I really don’t know, but I won’t do a long-term deal or anything like that. It’ll probably be another two-year deal and then see how my body and everything responds,” he continued. “[Scoring is] easy for me. It’s just one of those things where mentally, how long do I want to play. See, I can play because what I do, nobody else does. It’s like a lost art. I can get my shot off on anybody because the league’s getting younger, but guys don’t really know the game. So, it’s easy. I can do it as long as I want, but probably another two years and that will probably be it.
“If I’ve got great teammates, great chance to win it.”