Bulls' Hamilton has shoulder contusion, mild sprain

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bulls shooting guard Richard Hamilton has a right shoulder contusion and mild sprain. His status is listed as day to day.

    Bulls shooting guard Richard Hamilton has a right shoulder contusion and mild sprain. His status is listed as day to day. Associated Press

 
Updated 3/7/2012 12:00 PM

The news on Richard Hamilton is far from a worst-case scenario.

The team announced Tuesday afternoon that Hamilton has a right shoulder contusion and mild sprain. His status is listed as day to day.

 

The veteran shooting guard was injured in the opening minute of Monday's victory over Indiana during a collision with Pacers center Roy Hibbert. Hamilton stayed in the game for a couple more possessions, but was clearly in some pain. He checked out at the 10:37 mark of the first quarter and headed straight to the locker room.

The best guess is probably a week or so before Hamilton can return. Monday's contest was his fifth game back after a monthlong absence because of a groin strain and thigh bruise.

So the Bulls have gotten used to playing without Hamilton this season and still possess the NBA's best record at 32-8. They'll try to extend a seven-game winning streak in Milwaukee on Wednesday.

Winning regular-season games without Hamilton, 34, hasn't been a problem for the Bulls. But the main reason they brought him in was for a projected playoff rematch with Miami, as someone who could prevent all the defensive attention being focused on Derrick Rose.

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Hamilton was one of the NBA's best playoff performers of the 2000 decade. During his time with the Detroit Pistons, Hamilton appeared in 120 playoff games, averaged 20.6 points and won a championship in 2004.

The shoulder should heal relatively soon and Hamilton will have the chance to be healthy for the playoffs. But this is his third injury of the season. What happens if he goes down in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference finals matchup against the Heat? Should the Bulls have a replacement ready?

The easiest insurance policy is the guy they've already used, veteran guard Mike James. He's 36 and mostly a point guard, but did once average 20 points over a full season for Toronto.

Coach Tom Thibodeau has also used backup point guards C.J. Watson and John Lucas III in the backcourt with Rose. Watson helped the Bulls win in Philadelphia on Sunday, while Lucas contributed 13 points against the Pacers.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Other than that, the Bulls aren't likely to make another kind of move unless a veteran guard somewhere accepts a contract buyout and becomes a free agent.

A trade is not likely because the Bulls don't have many expendable assets. There is almost no chance they'd trade the rights to 2011 draft pick Nikola Mirotic or Charlotte's future first-round draft pick because the team considers those significant assets for the future.

The Bulls refused to trade center Omer Asik to Houston for Courtney Lee last year and haven't changed their mind. Taj Gibson is practically untouchable, considering his vital role as a late-game defensive power forward.

Many fans will point to Boston's Ray Allen as the perfect replacement for Hamilton, and in many ways, he is. But Allen carries a $10 million salary, so the Bulls would have to give back multiple players in any trade. It makes no sense to send Brewer and Kyle Korver for a player winding down his career.

Also keep in mind that Boston started Tuesday just 1 games behind Philadelphia for the Atlantic Division lead. Catching the Sixers would move the Celtics all the way to the No. 4 playoff seed, so Boston is nowhere close to holding a fire sale.

Radical options such as Allen Iverson, Gilbert Arenas or Larry Hughes are extremely unlikely because those players would challenge the successful chemistry in the locker room.

From the D-League, the Bulls could bring back one-time preseason favorite Derrick Byars or an accomplished shooter such as 6-5 Andre Emmett (23.7 ppg, .459 3-point percentage). Re-signing James seems to be a more likely scenario, simply because of the familiarity.

For now, the Bulls' gameplan will be to keep hoping for Hamilton's better health, but they know an alternate plan might become useful down the road.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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