Captain Kirk is Coming Back Home
Two years ago, Bulls fans, including myself, were devastated when our beloved Kirk Hinrich was traded on draft night to the Washington Wizards. It was a way for the Bulls to clear up some cap space and go all-in on free agency by splurging on Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh. I never thought for a second that Lebron was taking his talents to the Windy City (I actually thought he would stay in Cleveland, but that’s besides the point). Wade maybe. He grew up in Chicago, so there was a realistic chance of him coming here. But when the Bulls struck out on all three of them, Carlos Boozer ended up being our consolation prize, and it was disappointing to say the least.
The Bulls gave up a seven-year veteran in Hinrich, a guy who did everything that was ever asked of him, for next to nothing. By trading a player of Hinrich’s class, the front office showed that loyalty hadn’t meant as much as we’d thought. Of course, we all got over it, and the Bulls ended up with the best record in the NBA the next season, but there wasn’t a game that went by where I didn’t miss Kirk Hinrich. His leadership and his defense were his two best qualities, and the Bulls lacked both during the 2011 Eastern Conference finals and 2012 playoffs.
Sure enough, as of yesterday morning, Captain Kirk is coming back to Chicago on the mini-midlevel exception and will sign a two-year, (just over) $6 million deal when the free agent moratorium ends on Wednesday. The most surprising part? He passed up a better offer from Milwaukee to come back and play for the team that low-balled him with a trade just two years ago. Hinrich probably didn’t forget, but he certainly forgave. Clearly, he wants to win as badly as anyone and feels he can help keep this team afloat without its best player. That, in itself, should make us feel pretty good.
No, Hinrich won’t be the difference maker in winning a championship this season and beyond, but he does solve the Bulls’ need for a combo guard and will man the point while Rose is out until January or February. Every one is entitled to their opinion on C.J. Watson (he was told by the Bulls yesterday that his team option will not be picked up) and whether or not Hinrich is an upgrade but, although he hasn’t been the same player in two seasons since that trade, I’d like to think that a comeback to Chicago will be exactly what Hinrich needs to get back to his old self.
By now, we can all agree that Watson is a soft-spoken floor general who plays mediocre defense at best and proved he cannot run the Bulls’ offense without the luxury of having Derrick Rose take off some pressure; Hinrich is the opposite. He started at point guard for this organization for over five seasons and already has a large majority of fan support in Chicago. He can defend multiple positions very well, has a high basketball IQ and was widely considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA during his time as a Bull. The injuries have piled up – there’s no doubt about that. However, Hinrich is only 31 years old, so if he can manage to stay healthy, he’s still got a good amount left in the tank. He’s not the answer by any means, but he does bring some aspects of his game to the table that Watson does not.
When Rip Hamilton’s deal expires after this season, Hinrich could start at shooting guard next season, making him even more valuable to the Bulls backcourt. The two-year deal comes with minimal risk, so it can’t hurt. Plus, according to Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson, because Hinrich is signing for the mini-midlevel exception, “the Bulls can exceed both the luxury tax threshold projected to be $70.3 million and a hard cap of $74.3 million set for teams who use the full midlevel exception.” In other words, the Bulls may end up matching Houston’s offer for Omer Asik after all, putting them into luxury tax territory and forcing them to pursue minimum-salary free agents to fill up the roster. But, that’s another story for another day.
As excited as I am about seeing Hinrich back in the white, red and black, the Bulls still have a few more important decisions and potential roster changes to make. It’s unfortunate that we can’t bring in any legitimate game-changers, but with such little flexibility in the salary cap, signing Kirk Hinrich was a move that many felt needed to be made. We’ll see how creative the front office wants to get in the coming weeks, but I’m not counting on anything major. In the meantime, let’s welcome back our former Captain and his new-look goggles to his old stomping grounds with open arms.