Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said he’s still impressed with point guard Cameron Payne.
But not to the point that he’s going to force Payne into the rotation or compromise a playoff push for developmental purposes.
Payne, who was the centerpiece in the trade with the Thunder last month, was recalled from the D-League before the game Friday against the 76ers. In the Windy City Bulls’ win Thursday, Payne, who is getting over a sore right foot, had 14 points, seven rebounds and eight assists in 26 minutes.
“They were really impressed with Cam,’’ Hoiberg said of the reports he received from the Windy City Bulls’ coaching staff. “He went down there and really competed. He was positive, he led, which is what you look for in those type of situations.
“When we had Denzel [Valentine] down there early in the season, a lot of the same things were said about it. His control of the game, his pace were really good. He didn’t shoot the ball as well last game, but the previous game he did and he made big plays down the stretch.’’
But that doesn’t change the fact that Hoiberg isn’t looking to give Payne big minutes now that he’s back with the big club. It’s quite the change from when he first arrived.
Payne averaged 19 minutes in the first four games after the trade. Coincidentally, the Bulls went 0-4, and he looked out of sync with not only the offense but his shot selection.
Hoiberg restricted his minutes in a win March 13 in Charlotte, then didn’t play him at all. Payne was unavailable for a few games after that because of soreness in his right foot, but the decision was made that he would get some time in the D-League.
Even upon his return, he hasn’t been promised a spot in the rotation.
The front office, especially general manager Gar Forman, was not thrilled with Hoiberg going against their “suggestion’’ to play Payne as much as possible, but with nine games left and a playoff spot still within reach, Hoiberg is focused on wins.
So is Payne.
“Win,’’ Payne said when asked what his focus was for the rest of the season. “I want to go to the playoffs.’’
When asked what his role would be, he said, “Just try to get my foot right and try to make the playoffs.’’
Center of attention
Robin Lopez returned to the starting lineup after serving a one-game suspension for an altercation with the Raptors’ Serge Ibaka. He was happy the Bulls got the win over the Pistons in his absence.
“I always want to be out there with the guys,’’ Lopez said. “But they took care of business and did their thing. So I was pleased to see them pick up the win.’’
Asked when he first knew he would be suspended, Lopez responded, “When I threw a punch.’’
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