Take away the incredible 142 points scored in the Chicago Bulls’ triple overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 4 of their opening round series, and you have a severely lacking Bulls offense. With those numbers out of the equation, Chicago is averaging just 88.9 points per game during these playoffs, worked up mostly against a Nets team that has major issues defensively. Kirk Hinrich, signed last summer to hold down the fort while Derrick Rose recovers from ACL surgery, has been out since that Game 4 with a calf injury. Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli, onetime end-of-the-bench guys, have had to play the hero. Daequan Cook is getting significant minutes in the second round. Chicago needs offensive help, badly.
And through it all, a shooting guard who used to routinely average over 19 points per game sits on the bench. Richard Hamilton has played just over ten minutes during this year’s postseason, and this is coming off of a regular season that saw the 2004 NBA champion start 45 out of the 50 contests he played with Chicago. After a disastrous run in the first game of Chicago’s postseason run (Hamilton turned the ball over, missed two shots, and a miscommunication with teammate Nate Robinson led to another turnover for Nate), Hamilton has been handed “Did Not Play – Coach’s Decision”-status in seven of the team’s eight subsequent games.
Hamilton has handled the demotion professionally, at least. Here’s his talk with Chicago Tribune Bulls beat reporter K.C. Johnson:
"It's hard. I have to be honest," Hamilton told the Tribune. "The only thing I can do is be a good teammate, help my guys out. Try to talk and communicate with them as best as possible to understand time, score and situation. Just try to be as positive and give them advice from all the stuff that I know about the playoffs."
As Johnson notes in his column, this is in sharp contrast to the Hamilton that was rumored to sabotage the work of former Detroit Pistons coach John Kuester during the 2010-11 season. Hamilton admits to missing battling against Heat guard Dwyane Wade, a star he was charged with guarding during the 2005 and 2006 Eastern Conference finals, but the benching seems like a logical (and unfortunate) next step for the 35-year old former All-Star.
Still, it kind of flies in the face of Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s repeated pronouncements regarding the players that have to step up to fill in the minutes for injured or illness-stricken teammates. Hamilton still has skills, he averaged over 16 points per 36 minutes this year and remains a sound passer in Chicago’s motion-based attack on offense, but his defensive shortcomings and inability to hit from behind the three-point arc make him an easy option to give a miss to in Thibodeau’s schemes.
Worse, for Chicago, Hamilton’s presence on the roster means the Bulls will be paying the luxury tax for the first time in the franchise’s lucrative history. The Bulls front office, like a lot of teams, overestimated the market for an expiring contract when they signed Rip to a three-year deal (with the final season only partially guaranteed) in December of 2011. Chicago probably thought it would have more suitors for Hamilton’s $1 million guarantee for 2013-14 during February’s trade deadline season, but his continued presence on the roster means Chicago is $4 million over the tax threshold. Whoops.
Johnson notes in his interview that Hamilton has stated that he’d like to play one more year past 2013-14, and it’s likely some team will take a chance on the former Piston sharpshooter after the Bulls waive him in July. It’s still an odd sight to look at, though, on that Chicago bench. Richard Hamilton, still obviously in fighting trim, appearing as if he could effortlessly drop 17 points in his sleep, reduced to a high five machine.
No fun, for all involved.