CLEVELAND—Due to injuries and trades, the Bulls have made a flurry of transactions recently.
After Kirk Hinrich suffered a right-hamstring injury in Monday’s overtime win over the Lakers at the United Center, the point guard remained in Chicago while the Bulls traveled to Cleveland for Wednesday night’s game against the Cavaliers. But ex-Bull Luol Deng would see a familiar face running the show, albeit off the bench: Mike James.
The Bulls signed the 38-year-old floor general to 10-day contract to give them some point-guard depth. James started the season in Chicago after making the team as a non-guaranteed free-agent invite at training camp before waiving him in early December following their acquisition of D.J. Augustin, the de facto starter at the moment.
"'Always Ready Mike,'" Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said of the point guard, who he knows from not only the veteran’s stint with the team in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, but their days together in Houston, where James resides. “That’s really who he is. Mike is going to be in a gym every day. When we let him go, he’s in a gym with [former NBA player and coach] John Lucas down in Houston every day. So you know he is always ready, he knows our system, he’s got experience. He’s got a lot of toughness, so we’re glad he was available.”
“Obviously with Mike, the fact that he’s been around and played for us before, he knows what we’re trying to do, so I think that’s a big plus for us.”
Ironically, James’ daughter sang the national anthem before Monday’s game, something unrelated to his return to the team.
“I need to have her as my agent. Maybe they want to sign me back because, ‘Somebody’s a star in the family. If the dad’s not the star, the daughter must be, so we’ve got to keep her around,’” James quipped. “You know what? It wasn’t that I was nervous. I just wanted her to perform well and I just wanted her to have fun, and sometimes when a person puts too much pressure on themselves, they can’t perform and that’s from any age group, any environment. And so, my biggest thing is I don’t think that the voice came from me. That’s definitely God given. But all I can do is help her have confidence and help her believe in her ability. And so, that’s one thing. If she doesn’t get anything else from her daddy, she gets her daddy’s confidence.”
On a more serious note, regarding his return to the Bulls, James wasn’t bitter about being released initially, taking a realistic approach to the situation.
“I always knew that was going to be an option, but at the same time, it’s always business, never personal. So you’ve got to be prepared for the good things and also the bad things that happen. So when it happened, I understood the business decision behind it. But at the same time, the only thing that I can control was going home, getting myself back 100 percent and getting myself ready for the second half of the season,” he explained. “With Kirk being hurt now, I see the only guard that they have is D.J. so with me coming back, there’s an opportunity there and so, I’ve just got to go out and play the game the right way, run the offense, do what I’ve been called to do, do what I’ve been doing my whole career and that’s just playing basketball. And so, it’s not rocket science. It’s just go out and just play the game. I know the plays, I know the system, I know the players. I look at it as I’ve been on a vacation for a month and so, I’m back and we’ll go from there, see what happens in the future. But right now, just take control of this. Take control of my present.
“Especially the older you get, the first question you get is, ‘Well, are you in shape?’ And so, I’ve prided myself on being in shape. I’ve prided myself on my work ethic and so, my shape is never my issue. It was about getting my body back 100 percent. It was about the right situation and they called me. No other teams were calling me. No other teams were giving me the opportunity, so Chicago, they called and the opportunity’s here.”
Another player who arrived in Cleveland without playing in the Bulls’ previous contest was forward Tornike “Toko” Shengeila, who was acquired from Brooklyn in the trade for 2011 first-round pick Marquis Teague, which was officially consummated Tuesday after being reported Saturday. Shengeila, a 6-foot-9 second-year forward drafted in the 2012 NBA Draft, played sparingly for the Nets, spending the vast majority of his time in Springfield, Mass., with Brooklyn’s D-League affiliate.
“I’ve heard good things about him. Good worker, high energy, young guy. He had an injury so that slowed him down. He missed training camp this year. But we’re excited to have him,” Thibodeau said. “With Toko, if he goes in, we’ll have a very limited package that we’ll put in when he’s in the game.”
Shengeila, a native of Georgia—the European country, not the state—sees himself as a good fit with the Bulls.
“This team [has a lot of] energy and I can add more. I’m a real energy guy and can help on defense and run the floor in transition. Whatever spots they have that I can help, I will help,” he said. “[Shengeila’s game is] real physical. I can penetrate. I’m working on my shot now. I can play three, four. I can post up. I can penetrate, pass the ball.”
It doesn’t hurt that he’s familiar with his new team from his time with the Nets, who fell to the Bulls in the playoffs last spring.
“Last year [the Nets] had [a seven-game series] against the Bulls and I saw this really good team, very energetic,” he recalled. “They had a lot of energy and it doesn’t matter [what happens], they’re fighting. So it’s the type of team I like, type of player I am and I hope I’m going to fit in.”
While English isn’t Shengeila’s first language and he’s still a relative novice to the NBA game, he has a mentor in Bucks veteran center Zaza Pachulia, who hails from his hometown and is now closer to him, being in Milwaukee.
“He’s an experienced guy and every question I have, I can call him and he’ll answer every question,” Shengeila said. “We are [good] friends. He comes from my town, so he helps me a lot.”
Earlier in the week, the Bulls signed veteran swingman Cartier Martin to his second 10-day contract Monday, as his first deal had expired. Thibodeau recently indicated that he wouldn’t be opposed to the sharpshooting wing remains in Chicago for the remainder of the campaign.
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“Yeah, the thing is he’s one of those guys who had to scratch his way into the league. Undrafted and he’s proven himself with a lot of different teams, went overseas, D-League, all that stuff. He’s played well this season,” the coach explained. “I’ve watched Atlanta play quite a bit, and I like what I saw and I know how I felt when he was on the floor, when we competed against him. So I think he’s a good fit for us and he’s one of those guys, you can play him, you can start him, you can bring him off the bench, you can not play him and he’s always going to be ready. And that professionalism, it goes a long way. It adds a lot to your team.”
Martin’s former coach in Washington, Wizards head coach Randy Wittman, concurred recently: “He’s got a skill. He can spread the floor, make shots and every coach likes to have a player like that. That’s what Cartier can do and he’s been around. He knows the nuances of what it takes to play and he’s been in a situation where he’s been on different teams. But that’s what Cartier Martin can do. I think his first game [for the Bulls in Chicago], he comes in with 11 points.”
Regarding the Bulls’ walking wounded, Carlos Boozer doesn’t expect his strained left calf, suffered in the victory over the Lakers, to be a lingering injury, despite missing the game against the Cavaliers, his first NBA team.
“I’m going to be out a couple days,” the power forward said. “Be right back at it.”
Thibodeau echoed his sentiments, though he was a bit more cautious in his optimism about Boozer’s prognosis.
“That one is more day-to-day. We’ll see where he is tomorrow,” the coach said. “I think the big thing is we want to see where he is. I don’t want to jump ahead. He said he was feeling better today, so we’ll see where he is tomorrow.”
As far as Hinrich, the Bulls seem to be taking it a bit more slowly with the floor general, who left Monday’s game in the second half and didn’t return.
“He’s getting treatment. It will probably be a week,” Thibodeau said. “We’re hoping that it’s shorter, but we want to make sure it’s right.”
“Yeah, we want him healthy. D.J.’s more than capable, Mike’s more than capable. We’ve got options we can go to and we feel very good about our team,” he continued. “Everyone’s got to be ready. We’re short-handed. Just get in there.
“But we need everyone. The core of the team is the same. We’ve got to find a way to get it done.”