When the Bulls brought in Richard Hamilton before last season, he was supposed to help push the team past Miami into the NBA Finals.
Since then, it’s easy to think the Bulls’ window of opportunity with Hamilton already ended.
The longtime Detroit Pistons shooting guard missed 38 games with a variety of injuries, then didn’t really get a chance to redeem himself in the playoffs after Derrick Rose was lost to a knee injury in Game 1 of the opening round.
Now in the second and final year of his Bulls contract, Hamilton, 34, will play most of this season without Rose, who is recovering from ACL surgery.
A lost cause? Hamilton didn’t see it that way. He decided it was time to act his age and started a program designed to keep himself healthy.
“I thought, ‘Just throw the ball up and play.’ I never thought about being flexible or anything like that,” Hamilton said after the Bulls’ 100-94 preseason victory over Milwaukee on Tuesday.
“I was always good with food and rest and all the other little stuff, running — but never with stretching.”
So Hamilton hired a Las Vegas-based therapist — recommended by former Detroit Pistons teammate Tayshaun Prince — to work on stretching and flexibility.
“When Tayshaun went out with his back a couple years ago, everybody thought he needed to get surgery,” Hamilton said. “Everybody told him they don’t know if he can play.
“He worked with this guy, and he didn’t need surgery. He came back, pain free. He told me how good he was, so I just tried it.”
It’s early, but so far the results look good. Through three preseason games, Hamilton is averaging 15.3 points and 2.3 steals, while shooting 56 percent from the field. And he has played just 25 minutes per contest.
No matter if he has played next to Kirk Hinrich or Nate Robinson, as he did against Milwaukee, Hamilton looks more like his usual self. Hinrich missed Tuesday’s game with a minor thumb injury.
“He’s feeling a lot better this year, and I think it’s showing,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Hamilton. “He puts a lot of pressure on a defense, because you really have to put two (defenders) on him, and if you don’t he’s going to knock those shots down all day.”
Hamilton considers last season an aberration. Not only was there a shortened training camp and condensed season, thanks to the lockout, Hamilton also didn’t even join the Bulls until Dec. 14 after accepting a buyout from the Pistons. That was just 11 days before the season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s odd,” he said. “It’s not like you’ve got a summer to go into a new organization, or a training camp. It’s like, ‘Bam. All right, I’m here.’ Time to play the first preseason game. You’re learning everything on the fly. I just tried to stay professional.”
Being professional didn’t help much when Hamilton suffered a groin injury in the season’s fourth game. Then there was a thigh issue and shoulder injury. He ended up averaging 11.6 points, lowest since his rookie year.
“The one thing I tried to do was stay positive,” he said. “Me and (Los Angeles Clippers guard) Chauncey (Billups) used to talk all the time. He went down with an Achilles, the first time he’d been hurt in a long time. It was a crazy year for everybody, not just players — the fans and everybody else.”
By the time the playoffs roll around again, Hamilton will have turned 35. He says he thinks all the time about how much longer he wants to play but didn’t offer any details.
For now, he’s just hoping the Rose window can be opened again in the spring.
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