CHICAGO -- Has Rip Hamilton played his last game for the Chicago Bulls?
Even head coach Tom Thibodeau doesn't know at the moment ... but it's possible. Thibodeau was asked on Monday whether Hamilton's lower back injury could keep him out the rest of the season and the veteran coach's answer left open the possibility.
"There's an unknown," Thibodeau said. "It's (a) back so those are tricky, but we just have to wait and see."
The Bulls have been doing a lot of waiting and seeing since Hamilton arrived in December, 2011, just before the regular season started. At the time, Hamilton was thought to be the missing two-guard piece who would help the Bulls get past the Miami Heat and help open up the floor for Derrick Rose. But from the first week of that season on, Hamilton -- and Rose -- dealt with a seemingly never-ending list of injuries and were rarely on the floor together.
Hamilton missed 38 games last season because of various injuries while Rose missed 27 games because of injuries of his own and then tore the ACL in his left knee in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers. The sad part for the Bulls is that the pair showed glimpses of playing well together at times, especially during that memorable playoff game against the Sixers in which Hamilton racked up 19 points and Rose almost rattled off a triple double before injuring his knee.
The reality is that while Hamilton has had some nice games with the Bulls, he hasn't been able to stay on the floor long enough to make much of a difference. He's missed 21 games and counting this season because of various injuries and hasn't even accompanied the Bulls on their last few road trips. He is a forgotten man in the Bulls' locker room.
Whether he comes back on the floor or not, he will be viewed as an $11 million dollar mistake by the Bulls' front office: $5 million for last season, $5 million for this season and a $1 million buyout this summer. Hamilton has said in the past that he would like to play another couple years in the league but it would probably be best for all parties involved to move in different directions.
The problem for the Bulls is that after the final year of Hamilton's contract is bought out, fans will have lingering frustrations with the front office because of its decision to sign Kirk Hinrich. Like Hamilton, Hinrich is a veteran guard who has had trouble staying healthy the past few seasons. He has missed 22 games this season because of seven different injuries. He had missed 28 games over the two seasons before that, yet the Bulls decided to give him a two-year deal worth $8 million last summer. Like Hamilton, Hinrich has played well in short bursts at various points through the season, but he has struggled to stay on the floor. While the short-term nature of both contracts won't linger over the Bulls for years to come, their inability to stay healthy during the past two seasons will likely be their enduring legacy in Chicago.