Seventh in a series
Marco Belinelli's introduction to the NBA was memorable.
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In his first game playing for Golden State at the Las Vegas Summer League -- less than 48 hours after traveling to the U.S. from his native Italy, on 7/7/07 -- Belinelli poured in 37 points, knocking down 14 of 20 shots from the field against the Hornets.
The ensuing months and years were much quieter. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard spent two uneventful seasons with the Warriors, then two in Toronto and two in New Orleans. He made the playoffs once, averaging 9.7 points in the Hornets' first-round, six-game loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2011.
When Belinelli, 27, signed with the Bulls last summer, he talked about how happy he was to join one of the NBA's best teams. Then he took the "dream come true" theme to another level by spending the next half-hour with a friend, posing for pictures in front of Bulls logos on the walls.
Belinelli got his chance to play on the NBA's biggest stage, starting seven of Bulls' 12 playoff games. He had some big moments, too, scoring 24 points in the Game 7 win at Brooklyn, then hitting a couple of late 3-pointers to help the Bulls pull off a win in Miami against the Heat to open the second round.
Looking at his season as a whole, Belinelli turned out to be a bargain after signing a one-year deal worth $1.9 million. He averaged 9.6 points overall and showed some versatility, playing point guard at times and also driving to the basket with success.
He got off to a terrible start with the Bulls but responded well when Richard Hamilton went out with a foot injury. In 27 games as a starter this season, Belinelli averaged 13.0 points.
It didn't take long before the Bulls started wondering internally if Belinelli was playing so well that he'd priced himself off the team. Unless they clear salary somehow, the Bulls can offer Belinelli no more than their taxpayer midlevel exception of $3.18 million.
If they offered that over, say, three years, Belinelli might consider staying in Chicago. But should the Bulls even try to bring him back?
Belinelli had plenty of good moments, including 3 game-winning shots, but he was very inconsistent. He wasn't great coming off the bench (7.6 points, .386 field-goal percentage), and he's probably not a starting-caliber two guard on an elite NBA team.
So with the Bulls leaning toward keeping Jimmy Butler in a starting role, maybe the best avenue is to simply thank Belinelli for a job well done and wish him luck with his next NBA team.
He's a nice guy to have, but the Bulls will be reluctant to offer any multiyear contracts this summer. They'd like to open some cap room in 2014, and there are a lot of unknowns lying ahead …
Will the Bulls trade Luol Deng's expiring contract? Will they use the amnesty clause on Carlos Boozer next year? How much will it cost to bring Spanish league MVP Nikola Mirotic to the NBA?
If the Bulls could bring back Belinelli with another one-year, $1.9 million deal, they would. They couldn't have asked for a player with a better attitude.
He figures to get a better offer, though, so his dream of playing for the Bulls probably was brief.
•Next man up: Nate Robinson