NEW ORLEANS -- Saturday marked a homecoming for a guy who has found a new home.
The Bulls' D.J. Augustin returned to his native New Orleans and was showered with affection the way women are showered with beads on Bourbon Street.
He scored a team-high 23 points for the Bulls, cementing his spot as the team's top point guard with a 39-plus-minute outing during which he had seven assists to just two turnovers.
"He has played terrific," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He has provided a big lift for us and shot the ball well. Playmaking, running the team ... D.J. has been a big plus. He's high-character, very intelligent and a great teammate."
Based on the outpouring of support Saturday, those who have known him the longest appear to agree.
Augustin bought nearly 30 tickets for friends and family members. He got passes for another 30 so they could greet him after the game in an area for visiting players.
"I think they'll be happy for me," Augustin said after the game, "but I'm not happy. We didn't get the win. I'll be happy to give them a hug and kiss."
Indeed the Bulls got drubbed in the Big Easy, losing 88-79 to fall to 1-1 on their six-game road trip. Next up is a Monday matchup with the Kings in Sacramento.
The Bulls' only good quarter Saturday was the first, when Augustin was at his best, hitting all three shots with two assists. Two were long jumpers and one was a driving layup.
But Augustin's most impressive play came when he weaved through three defenders, got near the rim and then found an all-alone Mike Dunleavy for a 3-pointer, which he drilled.
"We always talk about having a guard who can keep his dribble all the time," forward Taj Gibson said. "He is real unselfish and can knock down big-time shots. He is a phenomenal guard."
That's high praise for a guy who was dumped by the Raptors. The Bulls signed him Dec. 13, getting him for nothing. He quickly jumped Mike James and Marquis Teague as point guard options, and even with Kirk Hinrich now healthy, Augustin is the one getting starter's minutes. (Hinrich logged 18:28 in New Orleans.)
"I came here, and it's been a blessing," the soft-spoken Augustin said. "God does everything for a reason; I've always believed that. He put me in a great position, and I'm trying to make the best of it."
The fifth-year pro has been consistent and productive, which is what Thibodeau expected when the Bulls signed him.
"We knew he had the capability because he already had done it," Thibodeau said. "His (four) years in Charlotte told you he was capable of playing well. And I thought he had some really good moments in Indiana (last season). ... I knew he was hard to guard."
Thibodeau said the 6-foot, 183-pound Augustin didn't sulk when the Raptors put him in professional limbo.
"He took good care of himself," the coach said. "He was ready."
It turned out to be a great life lesson for a guy who was a star out of the University of Texas and the ninth player taken in the 2008 draft.
"You go through ups and downs in the NBA, and sometimes you don't know what's going on," he said. "You have to stay positive, keep working hard and stay professional. That's what I tried to do."
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