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Rip Hamilton says he is sure Derrick Rose will be back sometime next season

Chicago Bulls guard Richard 'Rip' Hamiltshares laugh first half play with teammate Derrick Rose (1) during an exhibitigame against IndianPacers

Chicago Bulls guard Richard "Rip" Hamilton shares a laugh in the first half of play with teammate Derrick Rose (1) during an exhibition game against the Indiana Pacers Tuesday December 20, 2011 at the United Center . | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:04AM

Rip Hamilton is confident Derrick Rose will be a major asset next season, even though the Bulls’ star point guard is recovering from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The veteran guard refuses to even rule out the possibility that his backcourt mate won’t be in the starting lineup on opening night. 

“I don’t want to say he’s out right now,” Hamilton said before signing autographs at Macy’s on State Street on Thursday night. “We have a long time. Derrick is still young. He can come back faster than a lot of people expect.”

Hamilton said the toughest thing about the Bulls being eliminated by the 76ers in a first-round playoff series has been watching the playoffs and knowing he and his teammates aren’t part of it. 

This season was supposed to end in a showdown with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, after all. Instead, it’s the Heat vs. the Celtics.

“We all thought we would still be playing,” Hamilton said. “We never expected Derrick to go down. We never expected [Joakim] Noah to go down. It was tough, but it’s part of the game, and hopefully we can come back next year, get everybody healthy and have a regular season, not a shortened season where you’re playing so many games in so many nights. 

“Hopefully, we’ll get everybody healthy and we’ll be great.”

Hamilton has battled injuries the past three years after being one of the most durable players during his first decade in the league. He has never been an offseason workout warrior but has always keep himself in good shape. 

Although the 34-year-old said he doesn’t anticipate any radical changes to his offseason regimen, he’s re-evaluating what he can do to remain more injury-free.

“The biggest thing with me is to stay in tune with the game,” he said. “I still go out and try to workout even harder now than when I was 20-something years old because I am a little older, but I just want to stay in tune with the game and figure out how I can get better. If it’s flexibility and eating right, which I already do, or just trying to find a way to keep my edge at my age.”

Hamilton said his exit interview with team executives led him to believe core players will return next season.

“Everybody is still excited about what we have,” he said. “It’s unexplainable how everything unfolded because everything was so promising. We’re a team that doesn’t want to use excuses, but there were things that happened this season that I haven’t seen for as long as I’ve been playing in the NBA. We feel like we have a great group of guys who are in it for one reason, and that’s to win.”

Hamilton disagrees with those who believe the Bulls need another superstar to win a championship. Hamilton won an NBA title in 2004 with a Pistons team that relied on teamwork and suffocating defense. The Bulls use a similar formula. 

“In order to win a championship, you have to be a team,” he said. “Not just one or two guys that can get you 20. Teams can defend that. But if you have four or five guys who can get 20 at any given time, and guys who are not just about me, me, me, but are willing to sacrifice for the good of the team, you can win. That’s what we have.”

It will take a healthy Rose for the Bulls to have any chance. Hamilton said he’s keeping in touch with the injured Bulls star.

“He’s doing good,” Hamilton said. “His spirits are good. The season still being active now, that’s hardest for everybody. I know it’s hard on me. I know it’s killing him.”

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