PRO BASKETBALL | BULLS 2011-12 PREVIEW

Talented Bulls, MVP Rose ready to let 'er Rip

2011-12-17T22:00:00Z 2011-12-19T00:21:29Z Talented Bulls, MVP Rose ready to let 'er RipBy Al Hamnik al.hamnik@nwi.com, (219) 933-4154 nwitimes.com
December 17, 2011 10:00 pm  • 

DEERFIELD, Ill. | Ronnie Brewer walked past the Berto Center trophy case and did a double take.

The Bulls' six NBA championship trophies were missing, which is kind of like the Statue of Liberty without her torch.

Turns out the priceless hardware was being cleaned and polished somewhere.

Amid all the conference and playoff banners hanging from the walls and rafters are those Larry O'Brien Trophies of 1991, ’92, ’93, ’96, ’97 and ’98 — the centerpiece of the Bulls' practice facility.

Film clips of a sobbing Michael Jordan clutching the ’91 trophy after Chicago eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 at the Forum are still shown during the NBA season.

With the signing of former Detroit Pistons shooting guard and three-time All-Star Richard "Rip" Hamilton and the young core group still intact from a 62-win season, the Bulls believe a seventh NBA title is within their grasp.

"He's always in perfect shape for running around, especially for his age," MVP Derrick Rose said. "Rip has the experience, plus he's a winner ... in college at Connecticut and probably even in high school.

"It looks like I'm gonna have a lot more assists this season. He'll definitely make us better."

Chicago lost to Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, winning the opener then dropping the next four as Rose struggled and the offense sputtered.

"To lose the way we did, it took me a while to get over that series," Joakim Noah said. "It definitely makes you hungry and makes you work harder every day in the gym to get over that hump."

The Heat averaged 90 points a game in that series, the Bulls 87.

"And it's not only Miami. There are a lot of teams in the East that have gotten significantly better," coach Tom Thibodeau said.

The 6-foot-7 Hamilton has averaged 17.7 points in his career. He is expected to lighten the scoring load on Rose, and that excites him as much as his new three-year, $15 million contract.

"The kid is very special. He can do pretty much anything and everything and proved that last year," Hamilton said. "I just want to help. I'll do whatever Coach and the organization want me to.

"If they want me to come in and play 20 minutes, I'm gonna do that. If they want me to come in and play 30, I'm gonna do that."

Hamilton won an NBA title with Detroit in 2004 and led UConn to the NCAA championship in 1999.

Rose (25 points per game), Carlos Boozer (17.5), Luol Deng (17.4), Noah (11.7), Kyle Korver (8.3), Taj Gibson (7.1), Brewer (6.2), C.J. Watson (4.9) and 7-foot-1 Omer Asik (3.0) round out the roster, with rookie Jimmy Butler looking very impressive in the preseason win Friday over the Pacers.

The NBA lockout has forced a 66-game condensed season that makes good health a key for every team.

The Bulls, for instance, have 19 games in January and nine within a 12-day span.

"We've met with our trainer and our doctors and our strength and conditioning people and they have put together a plan to be pro-active and keep guys healthy," General Manager Gar Forman said.

"I'm excited," Deng said. "I like our schedule. I'm not going to start talking negative about the schedule. Everybody's going through it.

"There's definitely gonna be nights when you feel it. But the way we play and the effort guys are gonna bring, we should be fine."

Rose made offseason conditioning a priority, running even while vacationing in China.

"I just want to be efficent," Rose said. "I think I sharpened everything up. I really worked my tail off this summer."

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