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Tom Thibodeau happy with a healthy Rip Hamilton

Richard Hamiltscored 19 against Kings Bulls’ seasopener. | AP

Richard Hamilton scored 19 against the Kings in the Bulls’ season opener. | AP

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Updated: December 3, 2012 6:49AM

CLEVELAND — The 19 points, including 5-for-5 shooting from the free-throw line in the season opener Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings, were nice.

Coach Tom Thibodeau would wear a smile after every game if Richard Hamilton gave him that kind of effort. Well, at least as much as Thibodeau could smile.

But more importantly, Hamilton was healthy the day after ­on Thursday, and he has been healthy since the start of training camp. That’s all Thibodeau cares about when the topic of his veteran shooting guard comes up.

“The big thing for Rip is his health, and he put a lot of work in to get healthy this summer,’’ Thibodeau said. “It’s paid off for him. Whenever he plays, he’s always effective. The problem was missing 38 games, so he never got into a rhythm. The first time he played an extended stretch for us last year was the month of April. It was a tough year.

“That got his attention and he did a great job in the summer, put a lot of time in.’’

That’s why Hamilton worked with a physical therapist in the offseason. Playing in 28 games last season, and averaging 11.6 points — the fewest he’s scored since his rookie season in 1999-2000 — was a huge wake-up call.

“I needed to get an advantage,’’ Hamilton said.

Being in shape seems to be it. Hamilton also had three assists and two steals against the Kings.

Talking Taj

Now that Taj Gibson’s four-year contract extension is done, Thibodeau was able to talk freely about it.

Gibson signed the deal late Wednesday night, just before the deadline, with the extension worth $32 million. There also are incentives that can push it to about
$38 million.

“He’s earned it,” Thibodeau said. “It’s important to reward people that work hard and perform well. He’s one of those guys that’s gotten better every year, gets here early, stays late, so I’m happy for him.’’

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