By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2010; D12
Kirk Hinrich was unofficially the first casualty of the summer free agent bonanza, when the Chicago Bulls decided to pawn off their captain and quiet but fiery leader to a rebuilding team in Washington simply to free up more salary cap space and increase their chances of luring the could-be King.
The Bulls whiffed in their pursuit of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and even Chris Bosh, settling on an $80 million grand prize - Carlos Boozer - who is sidelined for the next two months with a broken right hand. Although the Bulls never quite found a superstar shooting guard to pair with all-star point guard Derrick Rose, or even a Hinrich replacement for that that matter, Hinrich won't look back and gloat.
"It was a deal where they felt they had to swing for the fences and this was their time to do it. I understand it," Hinrich said this week. "You can always look back and say, 'What if they would've done this? What if they would've done that?' But it's just wasted time to think about stuff like that, because it's over. There is nothing you can do about it, no sense dwelling on it."
Hinrich scored eight points on Friday in the Wizards' 97-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena.
As he prepares to head back to Chicago to face his former team for the first time on Friday, Hinrich has embraced his new surroundings, although he admitted that it was odd to look down at his No. 12 Wizards uniform for the first time on Tuesday in Washington's preseason opener in Dallas. For their part, the Wizards are elated that they had the opportunity to acquire the 6-foot-3 guard who is capable of playing both back-court positions.
Saunders praised Hinrich as one of the two best players in training camp, along with No. 1 overall pick John Wall, and has been unable to keep him out of the lineup, starting him at small forward in the first two preseason games.
"A couple of people are calling him Elmer. He's like Elmer's glue, keeping everything together," Saunders said. "What I thought we were getting when we got him is a great defender, someone with an extremely high basketball IQ, an intelligent leader, a mentor for John. All those things I thought, that's what he is."
Hinrich, 29, was credited with helping Rose make the transition to the league, which is one of the reasons the Wizards were excited about making the deal for Hinrich after they landed the top draft pick. Rose said this summer that he was disappointed to see Hinrich leave. "Kirk meant a lot. I was kind of mad at the time that we lost him," Rose said. "He was a guy that got us into the playoffs with just his play on the court, and is a guy that we're definitely going to miss this year."
Wall said that he expects to benefit from sharing the floor with Hinrich this season. "He helps me a whole lot," Wall said. "I think he helped Derrick. Kirk is a great defensive guy, but also a good offensive guy. He may have had one or zero turnovers every night, so there is a lot you can learn from him."
Saunders will likely go to a more conventional starting lineup at some point, especially when Josh Howard returns from his left knee injury. But any concerns that the Wizards would struggle defensively with a three-point-guard offense with Hinrich, Wall and Gilbert Arenas were quieted some as Hinrich had what Saunders called an "astronomical" plus-minus ratio of plus-27 for the 28 minutes he was on the floor against the Mavericks. "I don't know if it's realistic that we'll play that way all year, you'll have to ask Flip that, but I just want to be out there," Hinrich said.
Hinrich arrived in Washington with a reputation for being a fierce defender, frustrating the likes of Wade and Paul Pierce over the years. And, when he was matched up against former Wizard Caron Butler in Dallas, Hinrich battled him in the post and even stripped Butler of the ball.
"I always hated to lose defensively," said Hinrich, who finished with nine points, four assists and two steals against the Mavericks. "It always drove me crazy to have somebody score on me. The first time somebody torched you or killed you, it hurt my pride too bad. I've been torched before, because good offense always beats good defense. But getting in the league, you realize that's how teams win championships. That's how teams win games. You have to be talented, but you have to be able to defend."
Hinrich advanced to the playoffs five times in his seven seasons in Chicago, which drafted him sixth overall in 2003. He said he was "blindsided" by the pre-draft deal, which also yielded 17th overall pick Kevin Seraphin and $3 million for the Wizards, but he said he wouldn't get too emotional when he returns.
"I was over it fairly quickly, just from a standpoint of, I can't dwell on things I can't control. The Wizards were excited to have me and I was excited to have a fresh start," Hinrich said. "It's not going to be emotional at all for me. It's going to be another game. It'll be a little strange being in the other locker room or something like that. But it's a game we want to win.
"I'm excited, just to go back," Hinrich said. "I love Chicago. It's a great city. It was really good to me. Great fans and the organization was good to me. I've got a real comfort level playing in United Center, so I'm just looking forward to going there and playing."