Richard Hamilton seemed like the missing piece for a contending Bulls team in need of some scoring punch at shooting guard when he signed before last season, but the fit hasn't been as comfortable as many foresaw. Injuries have limited the 34-year-old to playing in just 43 of Chicago's 93 regular season games the past two seasons, and he's currently on the shelf with a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. When Hamilton has been in the lineup, he's averaged just 25.7 minutes a night over this year and last. Some of that has to do with coach Tom Thibodeau's desire to shield Hamilton from further injury, but Thibodeau has also gone with others down the stretch for defensive purposes. Defense has always been Thibodeau's calling card, and it's tough to find minutes on the Bulls if the coach doesn't like the way you defend.
Many of Hamilton's stats are down from his days with the Pistons, but his 45.3% shooting percentage as a Bull is slightly above his career mark, while most of his per-36-minutes stats indicate little drop off in performance. He's become a more consistent long-range shooter with age, having shot better than 37% from behind the arc in 2010/11 and 2011/12, the first time he's done so in consecutive seasons. Hamilton has kept it up this year, shooting threes at a 37.5% clip.
Chicago reportedly tried to trade Hamilton over the summer, but found no takers. He's still on the block, according to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, and as more teams look toward next year, Hamilton's contract may become an attractive trade chip. He's set to make $5MM this season and another $5MM in 2013/14, but only $1MM of next year's salary is guaranteed. That could make him an option for a team in need of a veteran with championship experience in the short-term but with plans to clear cap space for the future. The Hawks and Mavs fit that profile, though Hamilton would probably have to come off the bench for both teams. Hamilton would have a better shot at starting in Minnesota, where the Wolves have had a hole at shooting guard for a while. With the team's final roster spot in flux as it searches for a wing player, Minnesota might make the perfect landing spot for Rip. The Wolves could take on Hamilton in exchange for a draft pick, allowing the hard-capped Bulls flexibility and the chance to avoid paying the luxury tax, something that Johnson points out the franchise has never done. Chicago could sign someone for the minimum salary to get back up to the minimum 13 players on the roster. Still, there are complications. If Minnesota GM David Kahn insists on trying to move Derrick Williams as part of any deal, that would probably scuttle any movement between them and the Bulls.
Plus, the Bulls may insist that they not take any player in exchange for Hamilton, preferring instead a draft pick and the $5.1MM trade exception such a move would create. That would make it harder to deal Hamilton to a team like the Hornets or the Suns, teams focused firmly on the future who might be reluctant to give up picks. In his mailbag yesterday, Aggrey Sam of CSNChicago identified Phoenix as a team with interest, but cautioned that Hamilton may not want to play for a team without a title shot. Hamilton clashed with coach John Kuester on the moribund Pistons in 2010/11, reportedly organizing a locker-room revolt. Teams that would otherwise be attracted to his veteran presence might be wary.
There won't be any call for Hamilton until he returns from his latest injury, so no move appears imminent. I think if he's to be dealt this year, it will be close to the deadline, unless the T-Wolves or another team looking for a wing player gets antsy and gives the Bulls what they want. Chicago is a half-game out of fourth place in the Eastern Conference even without Derrick Rose, so if Thibodeau still thinks Hamilton can help them continue to stay within hailing distance of a high playoff seed, the Bulls will probably be inclined to keep him, at least until Rose gets back. If Hamilton comes back healthy and sees an even greater reduction in minutes, however, I believe he'll finish the season elsewhere.