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Does Rip Hamilton give Bulls the advantage over the Heat?

Bulls guard Derrick Rose is welcomed bench by forward Carlos Boozer after he was taken out game late fourth quarter

Bulls guard Derrick Rose is welcomed to the bench by forward Carlos Boozer after he was taken out of the game late in the fourth quarter of the Chicago Bulls victory over the Atlanta Hawks 95-83 in game five of the Eastern conference semi-finals Tuesday May 10, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 17, 2012 8:25AM

In non-drug bust news, the Bulls will open their exhibition season Friday on a major high. They have a new shooting guard, which is to say “a person who can shoot’’ or “not Keith Bogans.’’

That’s not totally fair to Bogans, who can play a mean defense and score occasionally, but the Bulls needed someone who could take the offensive pressure off of Derrick Rose.

So here comes Richard “Rip” Hamilton, or Rip Van Hamilton to those of you who believe the Bulls needed to find someone a bit younger than a man who turns 34 in February.

Hamilton was a better alternative than former Hawk Jamal Crawford, a creative offensive player who has never met a shot he didn’t want to marry. The Bulls needed a shooting guard, not a player who would forget the center of the team’s universe. That would be Rose, a point guard who could use someone to take the load off once in while.

If Hamilton can provide that — and there’s no assurance of it at his age — it will mean that Rose won’t be subjected to as much punishment from game to game. If Hamilton can score, it will mean the Bulls can take a step toward standing up to the Heat, who beat them in five games in the Eastern Conference finals.

A small step, but a step. And that’s better than standing still.

Moving forward is what this is all about, nothing else. Despite what the dreamers would have you believe, the Bulls were not one shooting guard away from advancing to the NBA Finals. They need a whole season of absorbing Hamilton’s abilities into the mix to see if they will fit into the whole. In other words, can he still play defense?

If he can’t, will Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau be able to afford to have Hamilton and Carlos Boozer on the floor at the same time? Does that sound like something the defensive-minded Thibs would do, even if he were tied to a chair and beaten to within an inch of his life? No, it doesn’t. Thibodeau might end up playing the role of the mad chemist this season, mixing and matching to avoid combustible combinations.

But that’s all conjecture. Right now, the Bulls have a real, live shooting guard who can shoot. Their hope is that teams will continue to be so concerned about Rose’s crazed drives to the basket that Hamilton will make them pay for their single-mindedness. Hamilton will get his 25-30 minutes a game and make life easier for Rose. That’s the hope.

The biggest piece of the puzzle remains Boozer. I’m sure he thinks he’s being picked on, but if he can stay healthy and give the Bulls 20 points and 10 rebounds a game from the regular season through the playoffs, it will take pressure off Rose in ways Hamilton can’t. If Boozer doesn’t raise his game, then Hamilton’s presence won’t make much difference, in terms of felling the purportedly mighty Heat.

But for now, enjoy the Hamilton signing. It adds another element as the Bulls continue to figure out this whole winning thing. They’re not new to it, but it takes a while to have a total awakening. Ask Hamilton, who has won an NCAA championship (at Connecticut) and an NBA title (with the Pistons.)

Ask Hamilton about Rose, and you’ll get the perfect answer.

“The kid is very special,’’ he said. “The kid can do any and everything. He showed that last year. I just want to help. I just want to be there when he needs me and be able to ride with him.”

That’s the right attitude. Rose is a team player, but he has so much talent that everybody, on and off the court, is along for the ride. If Hamilton can make that ride smoother, all the better.

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