CHICAGO – The Bulls will be without one familiar face for much of the coming season, so they’re bringing back another to help fill the void.
Kirk Hinrich returned to the Bulls on Tuesday. The nine-year veteran rejoins the team that drafted him in 2003 and with which he played his first seven professional seasons.
“We went into this offseason, it was probably our biggest priority to get a combo guard,” Bulls general manager Gar Forman said. “He knows his teammates. We just think it’s going to be a perfect fit not just for the coming year, but for the future.”
Hinrich likely will start at point guard while Derrick Rose rehabilitates from left knee surgery. The MVP of the 2010-11 season is expected to be out until at least January, although recent reports suggest that Rose might not return until March.
When Rose returns, Hinrich likely will become a key part of a revamped Bulls bench.
“We know Derrick is going to take his time to come back and everybody is going to have to step up while he’s out,” Hinrich said. “I’m really looking forward to playing with him, as well. I felt like toward the end of my last year here, we played really well together.”
Rose and Hinrich started 50 games during the 2009-10 season, during which the Bulls went 31-19.
Now 31, Hinrich has been plagued by injuries since leaving the Bulls, missing a total of 28 games the past two seasons with Washington and Atlanta. Last season, he averaged a career low 6.6 points for the Hawks.
“This offseason I’ve been working really hard and haven’t really felt any ill effects,” Hinrich said. “Knock on wood. I feel healthy and hopefully will be contributing to a very good team.”
Hinrich was a mainstay on the Bulls after being drafted in the first round from Kansas in 2003. The Bulls made the playoffs in five of his seven seasons with the club. With Rose on the rise in 2010, they appeared to be on the cusp of big things.
However, Hinrich was traded to Washington in a pre-draft trade in 2010 to clear room under the salary cap room for the Bulls’ failed attempts to sign one of that year’s major free agents, such as LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.
“It was disappointment,” Hinrich said. “I felt like we were at a place where we were finally ready to be good and I got traded. That’s how it is in this business.”
Hinrich joins a roster in transition. The cap-strapped Bulls have lost several key parts from one of the league’s top benches this summer, including C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer, Kyle Korver and Omer Asik.
The Bulls have signed free-agent guard Marco Belinelli, a five-year veteran from Italy who started 55 games for the New Orleans Hornets last season, averaging 11.8 points.
“If you look at Marco’s career, each and every year he has shown steady improvement,” Forman said. “We think that at 26 years old, there’s still a lot of upside to his game.”
Belinelli said he talked with several other teams during his free agency, but felt like joining the Bulls gave him his best chance at a title.
“When the Bulls called me, I was so happy because Chicago is maybe a team that can win the championship, and I can play with a star like Derrick Rose,” Belinelli said. “I think this is the best opportunity for me to grow up and try to win the championship.”
When Rose returns, Hinrich likely will team with Belinelli in the Bulls’ second unit backcourt. Belinelli’s 39.3 percent career mark from 3-point range will help replace the outside shooting of Korver, who was traded to Atlanta.
“Maybe I can play something more than [Korver],” Belinelli said “I think he’s just a shooter. I think maybe I can do something more than him. I’m going to try to do my best.”
Another new Bull will be forward Vladimir Radmanovic, who was teammates with Hinrich in Atlanta last season.
“He’s a knockdown shooter,” Hinrich said. “He’s one of those guys that can be a matchup problem at [power forward] because it’s tough for big guys to get out there and check him.”
The two newest Bulls both expressed excitement at the prospect of playing for Tom Thibodeau, the league’s Coach of the Year for the 2010-11 season and the runner-up last season.
“It was evident from watching the way they play that he’s a very good coach,” Hinrich said. “That was a huge factor in the decision. I was able to talk to him a couple of times and get more comfortable with how he saw things. I think it’s going to be a good relationship.”