Two weeks before the NBA trade deadline, the Bulls landed on the rumor page after a report Thursday suggested they've had "exploratory" talks with Toronto about swapping Carlos Boozer for former No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani.
There was no suggestion a deal is imminent and there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical that any such trade would be made.
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Meanwhile, the Bulls were run off the floor by Denver 128-96 late Thursday. Joakim Noah was back in the starting lineup after missing three games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. Marco Belinelli did not play, due to a sprained ankle suffered Monday at Indiana, and Kirk Hinrich remains sidelined by an elbow issue.
The Bulls allowed a season-high 63 points in the first half, but trailed by just 5 points after hitting 7 of 11 shots from 3-point range. The Nuggets then won the third quarter 37-16 and had a 100-74 lead heading into the fourth.
Daequan Cook led the Bulls with 19 points, followed by Boozer with 18 and Nate Robinson 14. Wilson Chandler (8 of 9 field goals) scored 24 for the Nuggets, while Kenneth Faried (9-for-10) added 21.
Denver (32-18) has won 14 of its last 16 games. The Bulls (29-20) will try to salvage a .500 road trip Friday at Utah.
The Bulls' primary goal in any sort of Boozer-Bargnani trade would be to trim payroll. There's a chance for that, because Bargnani is set to make $11 and $12 million over the next two seasons, compared to $15.3 and $16.8 million for Boozer.
A Boozer trade would open a starting spot for Taj Gibson and lessen the need to deal Luol Deng -- both positive achievements for the Bulls.
Looking at the other side, though, Toronto just acquired a hefty contract when it landed Rudy Gay from Memphis. The Raptors already have $66 million in salary commitments for next season, not far from this year's luxury tax threshold of $70.3 million.
So it's easy to see why Toronto would be hesitant to do this deal -- even a version that would include Nate Robinson and ex-Bull John Lucas III -- without giving back more salaries in return.
If the Bulls can't cut the payroll, a deal like this makes less sense. As it stands, they still have the option of using the amnesty clause on Boozer. They'd still owe his salary, but it wouldn't count toward the luxury tax or salary cap.
Teams are allowed to use the amnesty clause only on players that have been on the roster since July 1, 2011. So they couldn't use the amnesty provision down the road on Bargnani. It's possible his smaller salary would be easier to flip in a trade.
Boozer was playing well before he suffered a hamstring strain last week, averaging 19.5 points and 10.1 rebounds in January. The Bulls are concerned that he doesn't play as well with Derrick Rose on the floor, and Rose should be back soon from ACL surgery.
In theory, Bargnani would give the Bulls another 3-point threat and help spread the floor for Rose. But the No. 1 pick of the 2006 draft has never put it all together.
Bargnani's scoring average peaked at 21.4 points two years ago. This season, he's at 15.9 points and he's missed 67 games due to injury during the past three years. He's suspect defensively, he's a 7-footer with a career rebounding average of 4.9, his 3-point percentage is currently .309 and he hasn't made the playoffs since 2008.
Also on Thursday, the Bulls found out they didn't have anyone selected for the all-star weekend contests. Several players were pushing second-year forward Jimmy Butler for the slam dunk contest and rookie-sophomore game. He didn't get the call for either event.