While the United Center crowd may have been surprised Mike James played all but 41 seconds in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls' 89-80 victory over the Boston Celtics, the veteran point guard's coaches and teammates knew exactly what he would bring to the table and fans who paid attention to his first stint weren't caught off guard.
In a nationally televised game against a Celtics team that the Bulls consider as an Eastern Conference rival, James dropped eight points, four assists and one block in 17 minutes of action and poured in a much-needed three-pointer in the final frame. Having coached James for a season in Houston, Tom Thibodeau has raved about him throughout the season and understands the importance of allowing him to run comfortable playsets.
James has repeatedly praised Thibodeau because of the fact that the reigning Coach of the Year has continued to put him in pick-and-roll sets. Clearly, James, whose 10-year NBA career has taken him to 10 different clubs, is more than capable of running that type of offense. Before the Bulls released him ahead of their nine-game road trip, he posted nine points and 10 assists against the Charlotte Bobcats on Jan. 21.
Over his last two games, James has looked like a natural running the pick-and-roll with the Bulls' big men, especially Carlos Boozer, and he dished out a sleek assist to the veteran power forward for a layup late in the game. With Derrick Rose out again due to lower back spasms, James also provided the Bulls with size, defensively, on Celtics star Rajon Rondo, whose early-game play put C.J. Watson in foul trouble and essentially took John Lucas III out of the game.
He is still learning the nuances of Thibodeau's schemes on both ends of the court, but he can always run the pick-and-roll and bring the intangibles night in and night out.
"I thought Mike James was terrific," Thibodeau told reporters after the game. "Rondo's a load to deal with [in] every aspect of the game ... so I thought Mike battled him tough in the post.
"Mike's an excellent pick-and-roll player. [When] they went zone he was able to get into some gaps and make some plays. He's a very confident player and he knocked down a big three. He did an excellent job of running the team."
Yes, even the Bulls have been affected by Jeremy Lin's improbable surge, dubbed "Linsanity." Had the New York Knicks waived Lin last week, they were in position to sign James, who was born and raised in nearby Amityville, NY. However, as Rose kept dealing with back issues, Chicago re-signed the 36-year-old on a 10-day contract Tuesday, an acquisition that one could tell was on the radar.
And the Bulls' locker room was ecstatic to see a familiar face -- a man who is all about winning at this stage in his career and willing to do whatever it takes to earn his second championship.
"Mike is a pro. When he came back, we told him how happy we are for him to be back," Bulls forward Luol Deng told Bulls.com's BullsTV.
Well-liked by his teammates and coaches, James fits right into the Bulls' culture. Although the former Duquesne standout's contract status remains an uncertainty moving forward, his performances appear deserving of another deal, whether that's in Chicago or elsewhere.
For their part, James' teammates would love for the oldest player on the team to stick around, and perhaps play a role similar to the one Kurt Thomas did on last season's Chicago squad -- a third- or fourth-string player who is always prepared and produces whenever his number is called upon.
"He's going in early, running the plays, doing everything," Deng said. "Not only what you see on the court, but off the court as a teammate. He's a great guy to have in the locker room, a guy that's going to be there early so everyone sees that. And you need that."