Par for the course, the Chicago Bulls did not make an acquisition ahead of the NBA’s trade deadline on Thursday afternoon. While general manager Gar Forman talked to the other 29 executives in the league, the Bulls have made it clear all season long that they have supreme confidence in the team as currently constructed.
Following a 106-102 victory over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau made the case for his team to stand pat – even though the loyal reigning Coach of the Year wasn’t directly asked about the trade deadline.
“I think the guys that we have on our team are the right guys,” Thibodeau told reporters after arguably the Bulls’ most impressive win of the campaign, given that they were without star point guard Derrick Rose. “They have the right attitude, the right approach, and there’s a belief that we can win.”
For the Bulls, the question was: Why fix what isn’t broken? They faced a similar dilemma at this point last season and decided to keep the team intact. Now, the Bulls have the best record in the league (36-9) and have successfully navigated through a plethora of injuries during this compressed season, largely thanks to a cohesive, tight-knit bunch. It’s no secret that they refused to give up their young assets, in Taj Gibson, Omer Asik and last June's first-round draft selection Nikola Mirotic, unless they received a can’t-miss offer.
On March 1, I wrote on this blog that the Bulls were unlikely to complete a major trade and appeared set to make a minor signing or two. The Bulls brought back veteran point guard Mike James on a 10-day contract on Tuesday to give them 14 players on the roster. As reported here earlier in the month, all signs point to James being re-signed for the rest of the season, which could very well take place once his latest 10-day deal is up.
The Bulls will also look to pick up a reserve big man at some point between now and when rosters have to be finalized for the postseason. Forman and executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson have been searching for a front-court body ever since Kurt Thomas left before the season as an unrestricted free agent.
Although the Bulls were linked to big-name talents such as Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard and Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol and solid two-guards like the Houston Rockets’ Courtney Lee, once again, and the Utah Jazz’s Raja Bell, trade discussions before the deadline never reached a serious stage, by all accounts. Not to mention the fact that all four of those players stayed put – while Howard’s decision to play out his 2012-13 contract, rather than opt-out of it, has been well-documented.
It was a hectic Thursday around the league, though. The Bulls face Friday night a Portland Trail Blazers team that shipped out key starters Gerald Wallace and Marcus Camby and fired head coach Nate McMillan. Among the Eastern Conference playoff teams, the Indiana Pacers made a solid splash, acquiring Leandro Barbosa, who is averaging 12.2 points this season, from the Toronto Raptors for a second-round pick, and on Wednesday the Milwaukee Bucks, currently tied with the New York Knicks for the eighth seed, dealt oft-injured center Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson to the Golden State Warriors for prolific-scoring guard Monta Ellis, Kwame Brown and Ekpe Udoh. The Heat – whom the Bulls have a 3½-game lead over in the standings – Magic and Boston Celtics didn’t make any noise at the deadline.
The Bulls are hoping that Rip Hamilton’s return to the lineup will serve as their version of a midseason acquisition. The veteran shooting guard was signed early in training camp to take some of the scoring burden off Rose but has missed six consecutive games because of a right shoulder injury and is sidelined indefinitely. Overall, Hamilton has missed almost twice as many games (29) as he's played (16) and is averaging 11.3 points and 3.1 assists.