HOUSTONAt first, it seemed like a byproduct of last seasons injury-plagued campaign. Now, with the Bulls struggling and not executing in close, late-game situations, the fact that veteran Rip Hamilton has been nailed to the bench just seems odd.
Sure, in Wednesday nights loss to Houston, Hamilton only shot 2-for-10 from the floor, making it somewhat justifiable that he didnt see any fourth-quarter action, even though the shooting guard is one of the few players on the roster who has experienceand successcoming up big in those situations. But when coupled with the fact that after he went 7-for-10 in another narrow defeat at Portland, the teams previous loss in their current three-game skid, its more puzzling.
Youre going with the group thats playing well at that particular time. Its not about individuals, its about the team, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau explained. This team Houston is a tough team to cover defensively. So, I thought Taj and Jimmy coming in got us going in the right direction.
True, Butler is deserving of more playing timeGibson, who has closed out games for Carlos Boozer since the starting power forwards arrival in Chicago, long ago has been Thibodeaus go-to player of choice down the stretch, unless Boozer has it going offensively, as he started to late in the Rockets loss, but thats another story for another time, or even one thats been told beforeas this writer advocated Wednesday morning, and the second-year swingmans energy, defensive play and athleticism has definitely given the Bulls a shot of adrenaline when hes on the floor. But even if its offense-defense substitutions needed to get Hamilton on the court late, for a team mired in struggles scoring the ball and without the necessary poise needed to win tight games recently, its a mystery why a player known for stepping up in the clutch doesnt get the opportunity to show what hes capable of.
Hamilton answered those concerns diplomatically, perhaps out of deference for Thibodeaus track record or maybe because after the end to his successful run in Detroit was tainted by the implication that he wasnt as much as of a team-first player that he seemed to be for his entire career prior to the allegations that surfaced before leaving the Pistons. Either way, he wouldnt bite.
The one thing youve just got to do is just cheer for the guy thats out there. Hopefully we get the win, so you just try to stay positive with it, he calmly said afterwards. Like I always say, whatever they need me to do, Im going to do. If its play whatever, Im going to play. Just trying to stay positive, just try to keep getting better each and every day.
When I came to Chicago, it was just one of those things, Hamilton cryptically continued. I didnt want to get caught up in anything else.
While Hamilton will never admit to acknowledging that hes starting to approach the twilight of his careerand why would he, as hes displayed on multiple occasions this season, even on the Bulls current road trip, that hes still capable of being a major offensive forceone has to think that the whispers about him being the same player and being potential trade bait before the league-wide deadline so the organization can avoid the luxury tax have affected him. Although he reported to training camp in tip-top shape after privately being challenged to step up his game, the party line about protecting his health has to be wearing thin.
But Hamilton continues to be the good soldier, maybe thinking about his future legacy as a player, with respect to post-career opportunities, possibly wondering how it could help his perception when he inevitably moves on or even, more innocently, just not knowing why hes not given the chance to display his crunch-time chops. Regardless, no matter how much it bothers him, a player who makes good decisions, consistently knocks down shots off set plays and has done so for literally decades, going back to his national-championship days in college, let alone in the NBA Finals for Detroit, its hurting the Bulls even more, at least until another late-game primary optionoutside of Joakim Noahs big-man playmaking, Luol Dengs slashing-and-cutting game, and Nate Robinsons overall fearlessessemerges.
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