CHICAGO – Everything old is new again, the saying goes, or if we’re tailoring it for this NBA free-agency offseason, everyone old is new again. Or being passed off as new.
In a summer when Steve Nash, Jason Kidd and Ray Allen have grabbed headlines for changing teams — via deals agreed to, since nothing actually can get signed until Wednesday – Kirk Hinrich is a two-fer among the veteran backcourt players. Hinrich is switching teams and returning to his NBA roots, signing a two-year deal with the Chicago Bulls according to multiple reports.
Hinrich, who will be receive the “mini” mid-level exception of about $3 million annually available to teams at or above the luxury-tax threshold, was picked seventh overall out of Kansas by Chicago in the talent-rich 2003 NBA Draft. He started for the first time as a Bull on Nov. 8, 2003, in a lineup with Donyell Marshall, Eddy Curry, Kendall Gill and Eddie Robinson. Playing first for coach Bill Cartwright and later Scott Skiles, Hinrich averaged 12.0 points and 6.8 assists as a 38.6 percent shooter.
He improved his field-goal accuracy, though not by much lately (41.4 percent in 48 appearances with Atlanta last season). But his value to the Bulls is said to be his ability to man both backcourt spots; he can start in place of injured Derrick Rose for half the 2012-13 season or longer, then log minutes at shooting guard whenever Rose returns from his torn-ACL knee rehabilitation. Also, even at age 31, Hinrich’s defense is sticky enough to please Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
Hinrich was one of the Bulls’ assets basically gifted to Washington on draft night in 2010 when the team zealously cleared cap space to go free-agent shopping (the spree yielded Carlos Boozer and role players). So for some Chicago fans, he’s back where he belongs – for the Hinrich family too, which still owns a home near the team’s practice facility in the northern suburbs.
Others won’t view this as any sort of upgrade for a team that led the NBA in victories the past two regular seasons and, until Rose’s devastating injury in the very first game of the postseason, was all-in for a championship. Hinrich’s arrivals appears to seal the fate of C.J. Watson, Rose’s backup for the past two seasons. The Bulls hold a $3.2 million option on Watson that must be exercised by Tuesday. They also took Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague at No. 29 in the Draft June 28.
Watson, 28, is the classic coach-on-the-floor that Hinrich is, and he played badly in the first-round elimination by Philadelphia after Rose went down – most notably his brain-cramp decision to pass to center Omer Asik in the final seconds of the Game 6 clincher. But he labored through his own injuries for Chicago, especially when Rose was out multiple times, and his numbers last season trounced Hinrich’s.
On a 36-minute basis, Watson averaged 14.7 points, 6.2 assists and 3.3 rebounds, while shooting 36.8 percent overall, 39.3 percent on 3-pointers and 80.8 percent from the line. Here’s Hinrich: 9.2 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.9 rpg, with shooting percentages of 41.4, 34.6 and 78.1. Watson’s PER (measure of efficiency) was 13.3. Hinrich’s? A career-low 9.2 in a season in which, to be fair, he wasn’t fully healthy either.
Through two seasons in which Rose has lacked a star sidekick, never mind two of them in this “Big Three” era, many have pointed to Chicago’s depth as the help few teams can match. But Hinrich-and-a-raw-Teague over Watson might be a push or a half-step backward, and similar team options might result in Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer being elsewhere in 2012-13 too. Also, Chicago has to match the offer sheet signed by Asik just to stay even up front.
A trade still is possible, and it’s inevitable that the Bulls’ plans must wait until Rose and forward Luol Deng (torn wrist ligaments) return. Still, to a lot of the team’s fans, management seems more focused this offseason on facing the NBA luxury tax for the first time than on getting in the Miami Heat’s or Boston Celtics’ grills.