The Bulls worked Sunday on finalizing an agreement to bring back guard Kirk Hinrich. The deal is believed to be worth $6 million over two years, which is the most the Bulls can offer using their mid-level exception.
Hinrich spent seven years with the Bulls, from 2003-10, but was traded to Washington two years ago in what amounted to a salary dump so the Bulls would have enough cap space to pursue both LeBron James and a second top-level player in free agency. The Wizards traded Hinrich to the Atlanta Hawks midway through the 2010-11 season.
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Hinrich, who kept his permanent residence in Bannockburn, talked about his history in Chicago during a visit to the United Center last season.
"This is still a place where I'm so appreciative of the fans," he said. "It was the only thing I knew when I was here. Once you see the other side of things, you go different places and every place is a little different. This is definitely a place I enjoyed playing, for sure."
Knowing they didn't have the means to chase top-level free agents this summer, the Bulls targeted Hinrich, 31, because he's an experienced veteran who can play both guard spots. They'll need an extra point guard early next season while Derrick Rose recovers from ACL surgery.
Hinrich's best season with the Bulls came in 2006-07, when he averaged 16.6 points and 6.3 assists. He hasn't come close to those numbers since then.
The former Kansas star played fairly well in 2010-11, shooting .452 from the field in Washington, then was struck by a couple of injuries. First, a hamstring pull knocked him out of the second-round playoff series against the Bulls in 2011.
That summer, it was discovered he needed surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He ended up playing 48 games for the Hawks last season and averaging 6.6 points.
At the USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas, Bulls forward Taj Gibson shared his thoughts on Hinrich's return.
"I played with Kirk my rookie year," Gibson said, according to espn.com. "He was phenomenal in helping me grow as a player. He was a phenomenal leader. He was one of those tough-minded players that doesn't really care about much (besides) getting wins, and it would be great to have Kirky back on our team."
If the Bulls use the taxpayer mid-level on Hinrich, they'll be able to sign additional players using only the NBA's minimum salary. A couple players on the Bulls' radar are Nets forward Gerald Green and Suns shooting guard Michael Redd.
Green, 26, was a straight-from-high-school first-round pick of Boston in 2005. He clearly wasn't prepared for pro basketball and was out of the NBA by 2009. The athletic, 6-foot-7 forward played in Russia, China and the D-league, then was signed by the Nets midway through last season, where he averaged 12.9 points in 31 games for the Nets.
Redd, who turns 33 in August, was a longtime scoring machine in Milwaukee. A couple of knee injuries led to him missing most of two seasons from 2009-11. He made a comeback with Phoenix last season and played OK, averaging 8.2 points in 15.1 minutes per game.
Free agents can officially sign contracts Wednesday. Before then, the Bulls need to decide whether to pick up contract options for next season on Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Ronnie Brewer.
The addition of Hinrich almost certainly ends any chance of Watson coming back. Brewer also figures to be gone, with his defensive role going to second-year forward Jimmy Butler.
Korver's outside shooting would be tougher to replace, but he struggled to get his shot off in the playoffs last season after Rose was injured. So the Bulls may feel it's not worth $5 million to bring Korver back, though the final decision might depend on whether or not they match Houston's expected offer sheet to center Omer Asik.