NBA Saturday: Hamilton Loving Change of Scenery
Richard Hamilton couldn’t be happier. He sits at his locker, smiling and joking with nearby teammates Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson. When Hamilton talks about joining the Chicago Bulls, he becomes giddy and describes it as “a match made in heaven.”
This is a stark contrast from last January, when the Detroit Pistons were struggling and moved Hamilton to the bench. At that point in time, there was no smiling or joking from the shooting guard, just anger and frustration.
Now, one year later, he’s glad those days are over. The Pistons bought out Hamilton’s contract last month, which allowed the 33-year-old to sign a two-year, $10 million deal with the Bulls. When asked about the buyout, Hamilton said he “knew it was coming” and it’s clear he had his eyes on Chicago almost immediately.
“I thought it was a great fit,” Hamilton told HOOPSWORLD. “I saw what they needed and that they were right there last year. This is an opportunity for me to try to win another championship and I wanted another crack at it. I thought it was perfect.”
Hamilton knows what it takes to win a championship after hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in 2004 and helping the Pistons become a perennial contender during the last decade. He believes this is a championship-caliber team and, top to bottom, he has been impressed by the organization.
“It has been great,” Hamilton said. “It really has been awesome. From teammates to coaches, this is a first-class organization. Everyone is on the same page offensively and defensively. That’s when good things happen.”
After missing almost all of training camp and playing in just two preseason games, Hamilton is still learning on the fly. He’s averaging 12.4 points and contributing on both ends of the court, but his production should increase once he gets comfortable.
“It’s tough, but these guys are cool,” Hamilton said of the adjustment period. “They make my job a lot easier. This is a great group of guys and we’re all on the same page. Everyone wants to win and everyone is helping each other. This is a great coaching staff and they’ve tried to make my transition as easy as possible.”
Outside of Hamilton, the Bulls bring back the same core and bench as last season. The group has excellent chemistry, which is important during this condensed season. While teams like the Los Angeles Clippers or New York Knicks have to get everyone on the same page, Chicago is ready to pick up where they left off last season.
“It gives us an advantage, especially with no training camp,” Hamilton said. “This is a group of guys that have played with each other and it makes things much easier going forward. Take the Clippers, for example: It’s much tougher for them because they have a bunch of new pieces and they’re trying to put it together right now. It’s tough for a team like that.”
Players rarely have the opportunity to go from worst to first, but Hamilton is thrilled to be an exception. He’s having a good time and looking forward to contending during the final years of his prime.
Evans, Mason Displaying Leadership Again: The Washington Wizards are an extremely young team that makes a lot of mistakes. Over the offseason, management sensed that their team’s inexperience might be an issue, which is why Washington signed Maurice Evans and Roger Mason. The Wizards needed strong leaders to help the group develop and who better than Evans and Mason? The duo displayed their excellent leadership skills as vice presidents of the National Basketball Players Association during this offseason’s lengthy labor negotiations.
Assembling a new collective bargaining agreement isn’t an easy task. It can be very frustrating at times and there were plenty of points during the lockout where talks turned sour. However, looking back on the experience, Evans and Mason felt it was extremely rewarding and worth the time they spent traveling and sitting in various hotel conference rooms.
“It was a serious mental grind,” Mason told HOOPSWORLD. “You don’t know what it’s like in that room until you’re there. The guys that are there, David Stern and the owners, are savvy business men and that’s what they do for a living so it was a good learning experience. It was business so obviously there were never any hard feelings. I feel really proud that I was able to represent the guys.”
“It’s similar to when a team wins a championship during an Olympic year,” Evans said with a laugh. “You win, have players go compete in the Olympics and then the season starts back up. It’s like you didn’t really have an offseason. But it was a great learning experience being around Billy Hunter and learning from him. I have nothing but the utmost love and respect for that guy, and even for David Stern and Adam Silver. You just learn so much about people and the resolve that everyone in the situation had to have in order for us to get a deal. It was a pleasurable experience. It wasn’t always to our liking after certain meetings and, yes, it was frustrating at times, but it was the most rewarding thing I’ve done in a long time.”
Prior to every game this season, opposing players have gone out of their way to thank Mason and Evans for the work they did throughout the lockout. Not only did they attend nearly all of the meetings in New York, but they also traveled the country to hold regional meetings with players and agents. It was a busy summer for the two veterans, but they’ve received plenty of support.
“It’s been awesome,” Evans said. “Every game, we play guys who have just been so grateful and thankful for the work that we all put in during the offseason. I’m sure Derek [Fisher] is getting those same compliments from a lot of the guys.”
“It’s been overwhelming, the support from a lot of the guys that pay attention – saying thank you and appreciating the time that we put in,” Mason said. “I had to sacrifice a lot of my vacation time, a lot of my chill time, to go fight for these guys. It wasn’t easy to do, but most of the guys have been really appreciative.”
Now, they’re trying to put their leadership to use in Washington, where the Wizards have started the season with a seven-game losing streak.
“It’s been challenging at times,” Evans said. “It’s frustrating knowing how much potential we have here and then sometimes underachieving, being the only team in the NBA still without a win when we’ve had several within our grasp. That’s just part of the progression. I think that these guys are quick learners and are starting to get an understanding as each game comes about.”
Mason has found that it’s much easier to lead after participating in the labor talks.
“I think that leaders are born,” Mason said. “I’m the oldest of four. Leaders aren’t made, they’re born, and it’s something that I look forward to doing. I’ve probably been doing it all my life, but now I have nine years under my belt. I have experience, playing with a championship caliber team and leading us in the conference room as a Players’ Association vice president. My credentials are a little bit different now and I think the guys respect that.”
Evans, 33, and Mason, 31, are hoping that their experiences, both on and off the court, will help them eventually land a front office job once their playing days are behind them.
“I would love to share my knowledge and my talents in the front office, and somehow use my ability to read people and evaluate talent,” Evans said. “I want to use the great experiences I have, playing on championship-caliber teams, to really help young guys develop and prosper in this league.”
“I love the game,” Mason said. “I want to keep playing for awhile but when I’m done, I’ve got the experience of putting together the CBA. I’m very versed in that now and I’m sure I’ll be doing something that can take advantage at that skill set.”
While it’s not difficult to picture Evans or Mason as a general manager, that’s many years down the road. For now, they’re focused on directing the young Wizards and turning the season around. It won’t be easy, but it’s nothing compared to what they’ve faced in recent months.
Mack Adjusting to NBA: Shelvin Mack isn’t used to seven-game losing streaks.
During his three-year career at Butler University, the Bulldogs were 87-21 and appeared in the NCAA Championship Game twice. Now, Mack is a rookie on the Washington Wizards, who are still winless nearly two weeks into the season.
“I haven’t won an NBA game in my career,” Mack said, shaking his head. “It’s been really frustrating. We’re just trying to improve every day and control the things that we can control, but it has been tough.”
“It’s way different, but being at Butler kind of prepared me for situations like this,” Mack added. “At the end of the day, we just need to do the little things. We need to start taking charges, diving for loose balls and doing those little things because, at the end of the day, it leads to wins. If we don’t do those things, we’ll keep getting the same results.”
Mack is tired of hearing that the Wizards are a young team. He doesn’t think that’s a good excuse for the team’s struggles.
“Being a young team isn’t a reason for us not to compete,” Mack said. “Everyone works their whole life to get to the NBA. They work so hard. But now that we’re here, we have to take advantage of this opportunity.”
The 21-year-old has averaged 2.2 points, playing limited minutes in five games. Mack has had to adjust to the NBA with no summer league, a shortened preseason and limited practice time. He’s slowly learning and adjusting to his new role.
“The speed of the game is different,” Mack said. “Everyone is faster and quicker. You have to be very efficient. Also, my role is very different than it was in college. I started every game of my college career. Now, coming here, I have to be mentally prepared to come off of the bench without knowing when I’m going to play. That’s been the biggest adjustment so far.”
It’s never easy to be a rookie on a lottery team. After winning at every level, they’re forced to sit and watch as their team gets beat on a nightly basis. At some point, Mack will get his first NBA win and maybe down the road experience the type of success he’s grown accustomed to having.
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