Even after the Chicago Bulls traded Kirk Hinrich back in 2010 in preparation for that summer's free agent bonanza, Hinrich kept the house that he owned in the area. This was just one of the reasons that it almost seemed inevitable that Hinrich would return to the Bulls when he became a free agent in the summer of 2012. When Derrick Rose tore his ACL in last year's playoffs, Hinrich's return seemed even more certain.
Sure enough, the Bulls made Hinrich one of their offseason priorities, and quickly reached a deal with the point guard. The deal was initially reported as being for two years and $6 million, or the mini mid-level exception.
However, because the Milwaukee Bucks reportedly made a "substantial, three-year offer" to Hinrich, the Bulls were forced to up the ante and shell out a little more cash to sign the point guard. The deal ended up being for two years and $8 million, and because the Bulls had to dip into their full mid-level exception, they became subject to a hard cap at $74.3 million per the rules of the new CBA.
With that hard cap in place, the Bulls can't go over that $74.3 million under any circumstance. Since their current salary sits at about $73.5 million, they really can't add salary in a trade or even sign somebody at the minimum until later in November.
So was it worth losing this type of flexibility to sign Hinrich to fill in for Rose?
When Hinrich first came into the league with the Bulls, he was a solid player who could effectively play both guard positions despite being undersized at 6'3". But the past few years have not been too kind to Hinrich, even dating back to his last few years in Chicago.
Hinrich's efficiency numbers have dipped, especially as a member of the Atlanta Hawks. That 9.2 PER last season is quite ugly, although to be fair, Hinrich was coming off shoulder surgery. And Hinrich did in fact perform better during the second half of last year when he was healthier.
Still, there's no denying that the overall numbers the past couple of seasons are not pretty, which may lead one to question why the Bulls, and the Bucks for that matter, were in such a hurry to sign the guy. Furthermore, at age 31 with prior injury history, the Bulls have to worry about Hinrich continuing to break down. The Bulls' offense the past few seasons has been very reliant on the point guard to score and create, and based on the past few years, Hinrich is not a guy who can be relied on to provide those things.
On the other hand, Hinrich is a player who coach Tom Thibodeau is sure to love because of his gritty play and hard work ethic. Hinrich does not back down from anybody, as we have seen in the past against guys like current Bull Richard Hamilton, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo.
Hinrich, being on the Bulls just two years ago, also has familiarity with several members of the team. Pretty much all of the Bulls love the guy, including Rose, who admitted on Media Day that he lobbied for Hinrich's return. When Rose comes back, I would expect to see plenty of lineups where he and Hinrich are on the court together.
And finally, Hinrich has looked rejuvenated this preseason. While his shooting numbers still leave a lot to be desired, he's been steadily running the offense and has been a menace on the defensive end. A sprained thumb did keep him out of one game, so those injury concerns certainly have not been alleviated, but it appears to have been a short-term thing.
Will those positives outweigh the negatives we've seen the past few seasons? Will Hinrich be able to halt his decline and have a comeback year? Should the Bulls have kept C.J. Watson, or perhaps have gone in another direction?
Plenty of people were unhappy with the signing, and despite what Hinrich has shown this preseason, there's still reason to be skeptical. The Bulls could have easily just kept Watson around for one more year at $3.2 million, and they would not have had to deal with the hard cap, which would have been ideal.
There were also plenty of other options on the free agent market, including younger guys with higher ceilings like Jerryd Bayless and O.J. Mayo. Those guys are not world beaters by any means, and who knows if the Bulls would have been able to get them even they pursued hard. But they can put the ball in the bucket, which is something the Bulls need.
Nevertheless, this preseason has shown that at least Hinrich has a little something left in the tank. If he can stay healthy, he should be able to provide a solid veteran presence at the point until the return of the Bulls' superstar.
Perfect choice to fill in for Rose? Probably not. But ideal? It very well could be, even despite the hard cap.