While plenty of rumors have surrounded Eastern Conference contenders such as the Miami Heat, New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, the Chicago Bulls had been fairly quiet during the early stages of free agency. It had been hard to get a read on which direction Bulls management would decide to go in its search for an upgrade at shooting guard.
But as training camps and free agency officially got under way Friday, the Bulls have essentially narrowed their list of two-guard targets, with Richard "Rip" Hamilton leading the way, given that it appears Jason Richardson and Jamal Crawford are out of the franchise's price range. Hamilton reached a buyout agreement with the Detroit Pistons on Friday night, and he can join a team of his choice once he clears waivers, a process he could finish as soon as Monday.
The Bulls pursued Hamilton a season ago, and nearly completed a deal with the Pistons, according to various reports. He has spent the last nine seasons in Detroit, however, he averaged only 14.1 points in 2010-11 -- more than three points shy of his career average (17.7) -- and led a revolt against then-Pistons coach John Kuester, which has opened up questions regarding his character. Furthermore, Hamilton's 33 years old (34 in February) and isn't much of a three-point shooter, attempting under two per game throughout his career. He also has dealt with injury issues the past three seasons, failing to play over 55 games last season for the second consecutive year.
Still, Hamilton wants to win at this stage in his career. And the Bulls are looking to add a two-guard. Connect the dots. The Boston Celtics are rumored to be a potential suitor for Hamilton, but it's unlikely he would pass up a starting role on Bulls team that had the NBA's best regular-season record a season ago for a reserve spot behind Ray Allen in Boston.
If the Bulls sign Hamilton as they are widely expected to, he would give them positional size (6-foot-7), a polished mid-range game, plenty of experience against Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade from their countless battles and playoff and championship pedigree -- having won a title with the Pistons in 2004 -- at two-guard. Yes, he struggled last season, both on and off the court, but you might have to give him a pass on that because of the losing situation and less-than-ideal environment in Detroit. Opposing players respect Hamilton, a three-time All-Star, and it's no secret that the Bulls are looking for an established presence alongside Derrick Rose in the backcourt.
Speaking of Rose, he fully endorsed the possibility of Hamilton signing with the Bulls.
"Rip is a winner," Rose told reporters at the Berto Center Friday. "I can't say anything bad about him. He's got a championship. It's great. He knows how to win."
Meanwhile, general manager Gar Forman is continuing to evaluate whether or not the Bulls should exercise Keith Bogans' option for the upcoming season. Bogans was pulled off the practice floor before Friday's practice started because of his contract status, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Bulls have until Dec. 19 to make a decision on Bogans, whose team option is worth $1.39 million (two missed paychecks in November are taken into account).
“Keith Bogans is under contract with the Bulls and we have a December 19th option on that contract," Forman said in a statement. "At this time, we are exploring several options in finalizing our roster. We have always respected Keith’s professionalism and we hope to have more clarity on this situation soon.”
Although Bulls fans have been quick to criticize Bogans for his play last season, when he averaged just 4.4 points while starting all 82 games, Rose and head coach Tom Thibodeau have made it clear they would welcome his return and are confident in him.
"He did a great job for us -- played great defense, hit spot-up shots," Thibodeau said Friday when asked about Bogans. "... Like I've said, I like the guys we have here, and whoever we decide to go forward with, I'm good with."
"There are a lot of moving parts right now. We just have to be patient and see how it plays out. Gar and [executive vice president] John [Paxson] are working every day at it, and they're just studying the landscape."
- In case you missed it, Caron Butler officially signed a three-year, $24 million contract with the Clippers on Friday. The 6-foot-7 swingman met with the Bulls on Monday, and reportedly preferred to land in Chicago. But the Clippers offered him substantially more money than the Bulls.
- In a formality, the Bulls announced the signing of draft pick Jimmy Butler on Friday. Butler was the Bulls' 30th overall pick in last June's NBA draft. He had been practicing with teammates prior to signing, but was officially a part of the squad after signing on the dotted line.
- John Lucas III, who is under a fully non-guaranteed contract, made his way to the Berto Center on Thursday -- one day before training camp opened -- as I reported. Don't be surprised if Lucas remains on the roster when the Bulls begin the 2011-12 season against the Lakers on Christmas Day, because the 29-year-old is well-liked by Thibodeau and his teammates and is familiar with the coaching staff's schemes.
- The Bulls invited free agents Brian Scalabrine and Luther Head to camp. Scalabrine could return to the Bulls in a similar role as last season, providing a veteran presence at the end of the bench. The 6-foot-3 Head, who is a career 38.8 percent shooter from beyond the arc, was reportedly a no-show on Friday.
- Kurt Thomas is still on the open market, although his agent, Jerry Hicks, told the New York Post last week that the veteran center's preference is to re-sign with the Bulls. With Joakim Noah missing large chunks of the last two seasons and Omer Asik heading into his sophomore season, the Bulls would love to bring Thomas back, but he has received interest from several contending teams.
- Rasual Butler signed with the Toronto Raptors on Saturday. The veteran sharpshooter, who signed with the Bulls in March following a buyout from the L.A. Clippers, wanted to return to Chicago but wasn't in the club's future plans.