Rip to make Bulls debut as a spectator, will it end that way?

614438.png

Rip to make Bulls debut as a spectator, will it end that way?

INDIANAPOLIS -- It's just a preseason game, but Friday's matchup between the Bulls and the Pacers will feel like a full-course meal for basketball-starved NBA junkies. Obviously Bulls fans, with a mostly-intact squad returning from last season, are anxious to see whether head coach Tom Thibodeau plays new addition Rip Hamilton.

"We'll see after the shootaround. We're going to sit down. He had a good practice yesterday. We'll see how he feels and then we'll make a decision prior to the game," he said prior to Friday morning's shootaround at Conseco Fieldhouse. "Obviously Ronnie Brewer is going to start tonight. Ronnie's starting at 2. I also want to see Ronnie with the second unit. That group played extremely well together, so we're going to look at some different combinations."

Echoed Hamilton to CSNChicago.com: "Well, we're going to see. I've still got a lot to learn and things like that, so we're going to go out there to shootaround and see how we feel after."

As for Brewer, the selfless swingman told CSNChicago.com that he's willing to do whatever's best for the team.

"I've been working with the first group during training camp. I feel like I've been playing pretty well, but we're just trying to find chemistry," he said. "We had a long break from last year, with the addition of Rip, we're trying to work him in and allow him to learn the plays, and get used to everybody's strengths and weaknesses. It's been a minute since I've started a game, but I'm excited about it. I'll do my best to help any possible way, on offense or defense, or both."

Thibodeau plans to use his team's depth Friday, trying out different combinations, but although Brewer will be in the starting lineup, expect to see him rejoin his "Bench Mob" second-unit group at some point in the contest.

"I've said this before: I thought our bench was a great strength for our team last year. They had great chemistry together, they can execute, they can score in transition, they play great defense. I think they complement each other well, so I think it is a plus," said Thibodeau. "We're not going to play a normal rotation, per se, but they're going to play a good amount of minutes. We have to be ready on the 25th. You don't really know until you see what unfolds in the game either, so if we need to sub earlier, we'll sub earlier."

Additionally, the team's lone rookie, Marquette product Jimmy Butler, should see his first NBA action.

"I want to play Jimmy some, too. I want to see him in action," Thibodeau said about the 6-foot-7 wing. "I think he's learning how to be a pro. He's got a great demeanor. He's got an excellent attitude and approach to the game. He's got a lot to learn and he's moving in the right direction."

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls gearing up for realistic run at the postseason

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls gearing up for realistic run at the postseason

Today on CSN: White Sox continue spring training slate against Padres

Jimmy Butler, Bulls prep for stretch run with realistic eye on the postseason

Bears believe they got more than just a No. 2 QB in signing Mark Sanchez

Carlos Rodon headed to the disabled list, will start throwing program

Is Addison Russell still on track for Opening Night?

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

Tanner Kero latest to try and fill Artem Anisimov's skates

 

No Bears move yet on CB Deiondre' Hall except maybe to safety

Cubs release Munenori Kawasaki and keep the door open for his return

Kristin Cavallari shows off her favorite NFL tight end: A nude Jay Cutler

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.

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bulls tickets right here!]

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."