The Chicago Bulls' problems are bigger than Kirk Hinrich, but no one player personifies them more succinctly. SB Nation Chicago's Ricky O'Donnell looks at what went wrong for the Bulls' prized free agent signing.
How's this for a kick in the stomach: when Gar Forman and John Paxson decided to make signing Kirk Hinrich the Chicago Bulls' top offseason priority this summer, they were thinking about you. I swear it's true. The decision to bring back Hinrich was, in the most mangled sense of the term, good publicity for a franchise in desperate need of some. In the warped minds of the people who call the shots for Chicago's pro basketball team, signing Hinrich amounted to throwing the fans a bone. I know.
There's no denying the fact that Hinrich is the type of player fans like, and the Bulls have great fans. The Bulls have sold out nearly every home game for over two decades, and the people who buy those seats are the type of customers who can appreciate the less tangible aspects of Hinrich's game: grit, toughness, ability to persevere through obvious physical shortcomings. All of those things sell to the public. In this sense, signing Hinrich was almost a slam dunk. He was familiar, likable and safe. He would work hard, stay out of trouble off the court and toe the company line through and through. Did you hear he kept a house in area the last two years while battling injuries and fumbling his way through underwhelming campaigns in Washington and Atlanta? It's true! There's a lot to like about Kirk Hinrich, I suppose, save for his ability to play basketball. Kirk Hinrich is terrible at playing basketball.
There's a reason Forman and Paxson have their job, and they've largely done well in turning the Bulls into something of an agile beast the last two seasons. Give them credit for choosing Derrick Rose over Michael Beasley, give them credit for hiring Tom Thibodeau, give them credit for drafting Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah. But when it comes to roster construction and team makeup, the decision makers are supposed to be smarter than the people who buy the tickets. There was almost no analytical way to argue procuring Hinrich to a two-year, $8 million contract, and saddling the team with a hard cap for the rest of the season, was a smart move. Through 14 games this season, Hinrich has already proven that without a doubt.
You could see the headline coming from the moment Hinrich's signing was announced. I laughed audibly the first time I read it:
Well, that's good. Because Hinrich's numbers are atrocious.
Hinrich has an offensive rating this season of 92. For players that have started at least 12 games this season, only four players are worse. You don't even need to dabble in advanced metrics to tell Hinrich doesn't have it anymore, the numbers on the back of a basketball card do the job fine enough. Take a look at those numbers:
- Points per game: 6.2
- Field goal percentage: 32%
- Free throw percentage: 62%
- Three point percentage: 29%
Kirk Hinrich's PER this season is 9.03. Here's how that stacks up on John Hollinger's scale, via Wikipedia: just above "Definitely renting" (9.0), with "Next Stop: D-League" (5.0) as the lowest hurdle to clear. Hinrich isn't going to the D-League, you can bet on that. He'll be bricking jumpers with the Bulls all season long.
This isn't hate-fueled, as I'm sure Hinrich is a nice enough guy. It's just: what does he do well on a basketball court? He can't get to the free throw line, and when he does he can't make the shots. The Bulls desperately need three-point shooting after deciding to trade Kyle Korver this offseason in exchange for putting a few more dollars in ownership's already fat pockets, and Hinrich most definitely cannot provide it. He runs the team well enough, his defense is fine, though it's certainly slipped as he's gotten older and lost foot speed and agility. When Derrick Rose finally comes back, the plan would appear to have Hinrich playing alongside him at shooting guard. Fantastic, then he'll get torched by bigger, more athletic guards on defense and provide next to nothing offensively.
One common refrain echoed this offeason from people defending the Bulls' decisions was that they didn't have any flexibility, they couldn't have done anything else. This isn't exactly true. If the Bulls weren't in such a hurry to secure Hinrich, they could have waited it out and had O.J. Mayo for the same money. Yeah: Mayo also signed for $8 million over two seasons. He's averaging over 20 points per game, making over 52 percent of his three-pointers and putting up an 18.91 PER in Dallas this season.
If nothing else, the Bulls should have just picked up one-year team options on C.J. Watson and Korver. Watson isn't great, but he's better than Hinrich and would have given the team more flexibility moving forward. Now the Bulls are hard capped with nowhere to turn. Until Rose comes back, we watch Hinrich shoot and miss. Even when he does come back, Hinrich will still be around earning a decently sized paycheck next season. Still bricking jumpers.
The Bulls' problems are bigger than Hinrich, but no one player personifies them more succinctly. He is loyalty over production. He shows how a cheap team can't even go about being cheap the right way.
I remember when Kirk Hinrich was good, and I'll always be thankful for those years when he helped make the Bulls something more than an annual vacationer to Secaucus, New Jersey each summer. Those years were a long time ago. If you add up Hinrich's PER from his last three seasons, he would still have a lower PER than LeBron James this season. Good job, good signing.