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Hinrich 'optimistic' despite NBA grind
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Hinrich 'optimistic' despite NBA grind

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SIOUX CITY -- Kirk Hinrich is glad to have 2011 in the rearview.

2012 has been anything but easy.

Shoulder surgery and a torn hamstring would have slowed down anyone. Toss in a labor lockout, a compressed schedule and a major role change with the Atlanta Hawks, and Hinrich has had to pick things up on the fly.

"I think this year, I've participated in really one practice," said Hinrich on Friday, just hours before Atlanta hosted the Milwaukee Bucks -- the first of 19 games on the Hawks' slate in March alone.

The NBA crammed 66 games into the space of four months, thanks to a lockout that wasn't solved until December. Hinrich said the tight schedule doesn't leave much room to fit in a "real" practice.

"Most of them are more like shootaround types," he said. "You come in mentally and go over a few things, then you get off your feet."

That hasn't made it any easier for Hinrich as he gets up to speed.

The 31-year-old Hinrich returned to action in late January, at what he estimates was "about 80 percent," only to see his numbers -- and his minutes -- take a plunge. He's averaging career lows of 4.8 points and 19.4 minutes per game as a backup to Jeff Teague, the Atlanta Hawks' first-round pick in 2009.

"It's been a kind of a tough year," Hinrich said. "It's been a challenge, originally, just trying to get back in shape and get my timing back -- and also trying to get comfortable with my minutes."

Still, Hinrich insists he's "optimistic about the second half."

After all, he's been a standout just about everywhere he's played -- from his days as Iowa's Mr. Basketball at Sioux City West to an All-American career at the University of Kansas to first-round selection of the Chicago Bulls.

But lately, Hinrich's been a hurtin' unit.

He the first 18 games of his ninth NBA season while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. Hinrich underwent the procedure just as he recovered from a torn hamstring that sidelined him from the Hawks' playoff series last season against his former team, the Bulls.

"2011 was pretty frustrating," he said. "I've never really had anything major (injury-wise). I mean, I had thumb surgery a few years back -- but that wasn't dramatic or anything. That's just your thumb."

The injuries apparently haven't deterred the Los Angeles Lakers from showing interest in Hinrich's services. Twitter rumors surfaced this week, according to ESPN.com's Mark Stein, that L.A. is looking into acquiring Hinrich as relief for 37-year-old point guard Derek Fisher.

Hinrich hasn't paid much attention.

"I think for two or three years now, every time around the all-star break there's a rumor about me going to the Lakers," he said with a laugh. "It hasn't happened yet."

Swirling rumors are nothing new to Hinrich, who spent his first seven years in Chicago before the Bulls traded him to the Washington Wizards. Then, the Wizards dealt him to Atlanta last February.

"You know, you can't control whatever's going to happen -- that's the nature of basketball," Hinrich said. "When you're drafted into the NBA, everybody talks about it, but until you've been traded or until you see it happen to a teammate, it never really sinks in."

For the time being, he's focused on helping out a Hawks squad that floundered through a 4-9 February and lost its share of the Southeast Division lead.

"I'll try and go about business the best I can and help the Hawks," he added. "I think we have a dangerous team. We've been bit by the injury bug a little bit, but I'm just excited about the second half of the season here at Atlanta."

And no matter where he is, Hinrich insists he's always playing for one place, in particular -- his hometown.

"I love Sioux City," he said. "Those are my roots. Everyone there still supports me and I appreciate that so much -- and it means a lot to me. When I go out there and play, I try to represent my family, my hometown and everybody there who believes in me."

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