Hamilton turns Chicago into Rip City

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Hamilton turns Chicago into Rip City

After his first Bulls practice, a jovial Richard Hamilton made his intentions clear.

"I'm coming here to do whatever the coach and organization wants me to do. If they want me to come in and play 20 minutes, I'm going to do that," the 12th-year pro said Thursday. "Whatever the team needs because my biggest thing is I want to win a world championship. I won it once, had an opportunity to win it again, but didn't."

On a Pistons team that made back-to-back Finals appearances -- winning it all in 2004 -- Hamilton was part of one of the league's strongest defensive units in recent history, so adjusting to Tom Thibodeau's style shouldn't be overly difficult.

"Coach Thibodeau helped me through the whole time, the guys on the team were very talkative with me, helped me through different plays. It's learning a whole new, different system again, so it was fun. It's exciting just to be out here playing basketball again," said Hamilton of his first practice with his new team. "It's going to be an adjustment. Basketball is basketball, at the end of the day. A lot of plays are the same, but different calls and things like that, so one of the biggest things is adjusting to the guys on the floor, understanding what their likes and dislikes are. But hopefully I can learn fast."

As far as whether he'll play in the Bulls' preseason opener Friday in Indianapolis, Hamilton was unsure.

"We'll see. I learned a lot today. Today wasn't even basketball to me. It was pretty much like I was in college again, in class, learning all the different sets and figuring out where I needed to be on the offensive end, on the defensive end, the drills and everything," he said. "So, it was very confusing for me today. I thought I was going to come in and all of a sudden, just turn it on, but it didn't work that way."

Concurred Thibodeau: "We'll see. We'll treat the shootaround more like a practice, so I'm still undecided on that. I want to see him a little more."

"He looked good. He's in good shape, picks things up quickly, been around, he's a pro's pro, smart, high energy. He did a good job," the coach added. "I think he fits in with our team because of the fact that he's unselfish and he requires you to put two on the ball. Most teams are going to trap him on catch-and-shoot plays, and he'll hit the open man, so he gives us something else that we can go to. I like his size at that position -- I think that will help us -- and his experience. I think that goes a long way.

"I think you like to have balance, so we've got a lot of young guys, we've got some guys who are in the middle and then we have the veteran leadership, the guys that have been around. It's important. The guy's been in 120 playoff games. He's averaged 20 points in the playoffs, which is significant. But more importantly, he plays to win, and that's what we want him to do here," he continued. "He's been a premier catch-and-shoot player in the league for a long time. Now, we're not going to ask him to carry the load, but I think he fits in.

"Those teams in Detroit, they were great defensively. I think he takes a lot of pride in it."

However, Thibodeau wouldn't rule out the possibility of returning swingman Ronnie Brewer, who has excelled in training camp, starting at shooting guard, although it's believed that the second-year head coach prefers to keep his "Bench Mob" second unit intact.

"Ronnie has played terrific. He played great for us at the end of last year, so he's a critical part of our team," Thibodeau explained. "So, who starts, who comes off the bench, I'm not quite sure yet. We'll see how that goes and we're going to do what's best for the team."

Through one practice, Hamilton -- who said he was friendly with Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng before coming to Chicago -- has already made a positive impression on his new teammates.

"He's a winner, obviously won a championship, and he's going to be a great addition to our team," backup point guard C.J. Watson told CSNChicago.com.

From a floor general's perspective, playing with Hamilton should be a boon, Watson explained.

"Hamilton will probably be utilized coming off of screens, sort of how we use Kyle Korver. It's another spot-up shooter to take the pressure off D. Rose when he's in there with him, so it's going to be great to see them play together," he said. "It's going to be real easy. You've just got to get him the ball in the right spots and also gets you a lot of open shots, too, because a lot of attention will be on him."

Although Hamilton seems like a great fit on paper, the franchise is preaching caution when it comes to the notion that the 33-year-old will get the Bulls back to the promised land.

"I don't know if it's a missing piece. I don't know if you categorize it like that. I think Rip's got the ability to help this team," said general manager Gar Forman, who didn't give a clear-cut answer when asked if Hamilton would be allowed to wear his trademark headband, something the Bulls haven't permitted in the past. "He's got a proven resume, he's been a winner at every level, he's a pro and I think he'll fit with our group -- the type of guy he is -- and I think his game will fit with our group."

Added Hamilton: "Well, we'll all see. I love the game of basketball. I think that I can help this team is so many different ways and I'm excited about it.

"It was an awesome fit for me. When I looked at their team, they won 62 games last year, so they were already a great team before me and I thought it was an opportunity where I could help," continued the three-time All-Star, who consulted with former Bulls and ex-Pistons teammates Lindsay Hunter, Ben Wallace and Ben Gordon prior to signing with the organization. "I'm very, very excited, man. There's not too many opportunities to play with the MVP of the league. He is very special. He can do pretty much any and everything, and he showed it last year. I just want to help. I just want to be there when he needs my help, to have his back, be there through thick and thin, and be ready to ride with him."

Hamilton briefly addressed his tumultuous final days in Detroit, where he was reportedly part of a faction of veteran players who turned against ousted Pistons head coach John Kuester.

"I never had an issue with Coach Kuester," he said. "Everybody says it, but if you look in the media, you never heard a comment come out of my mouth; you never heard a comment come out of his mouth.

But when asked about his downward statistical trend, he answered, "Twenty-five minutes a game.

"Last year was last year," he continued. "Awkward, very awkward when you're with an organization for as long as I was and think that you'll retire there and now to be on the other team, it's different, but I'm excited."

Despite his age, the former NCAA champion at the University of Connecticut -- considered one of the most physically-fit players in the NBA -- believes his experience will pay off in his new digs.

"My game is running around. A lot of it is endurance, doing stuff that people hate to do. But I think that will allow me to play for a long time, so I just try to keep working on my craft," said Hamilton. "I think the only thing I lost was that trophy, when I was 26. Now it's time to try to get that thing back."

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."