By Mike McGraw
The Bulls have their first official "game-time decision" of the new season.
That was coach Tom Thibodeau's standard answer for any injured player last year and now it applies to guard Kirk Hinrich, who sat out the second half of Tuesday's preseason victory over Oklahoma City with a right-groin strain.
"He's better today than he was yesterday and we'll see how he is tomorrow," Thibodeau said following Wednesday's practice at the Berto Center.
So there's no solid news, and the injury doesn't appear to be serious. The logical step would be for Hinrich to skip Friday's preseason finale against Indiana in South Bend, Ind., since there's no reason for him to play.
But this episode does illustrate a potential problem for the Bulls. The new Bench Mob has shown some weak spots during the preseason, so the team may not be as well-equipped to survive an injury as it was the past two years.
For example, if Hinrich had to miss next Wednesday's season opener against Sacramento, would Thibodeau play backup Nate Robinson the full 48 minutes, or does he trust Marquis Teague to play a role?
Teague took the floor for less than four minutes against the Thunder, missed 1 shot and grabbed a single rebound. Overall in the preseason, Teague has played 29 minutes, with 4 points, 1 assist and 6 turnovers.
"Everybody in that (locker) room is capable of playing and playing well," Thibodeau said. "We're going to need everyone over the course of the season. I expect when they're called upon to be ready and get the job done."
Teague, 19, played just one year in college at Kentucky. He wasn't expected to play a significant role this season.
Shooting guard Marco Belinelli was expected to play a role for the Bulls. But his struggles continued Tuesday with no points and 1 assist in 12 minutes. Belinelli's preseason averages are 3.7 points, 1.3 assists and a .241 field-goal percentage.
With a full roster, Thibodeau could move Hinrich over to shooting guard while Robinson is at the point. Another scenario that could gain traction is using second-year small forward Jimmy Butler instead of Belinelli.
What Butler lacks in experience, he makes up for in hustle and athleticism. He's averaging 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in the preseason and seems to be gaining confidence by the day.
Newcomer Vladimir Radmanovic could fill in on the front line, but he hasn't been much of a factor in preseason. He hasn't played in the last three games.
Thibodeau challenged everyone on the roster to be ready because they never know what might happen.
"Just because you start the game and you're not in the rotation … there may be foul trouble in a game. There could be an injury in the game," he said. "So readiness to play is critical. I think having the right attitude and right approach is critical.
"It could be fourth quarter when you're called upon. You might be sitting there for three quarters. But you have to be ready and you have to get the job done."