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updated: 1/9/2014 7:52 PM

Tanking would be futile for Bulls

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  • Luol Deng's gone, but there's no looking back for Joakim Noah and the rest of the Bulls, who should still make a run at the playoffs.

      Luol Deng's gone, but there's no looking back for Joakim Noah and the rest of the Bulls, who should still make a run at the playoffs.
    Associated Press

  • Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) rebounds the ball against Atlanta Hawks center Pero Antic during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014.

      Bulls forward Taj Gibson (22) rebounds the ball against Atlanta Hawks center Pero Antic during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014.
    Associated Press

 
 

This was a strange day at the Berto Center.

Not so much because Luol Deng is gone after more than nine years with the team, without any chance to say goodbye. That happens all the time in pro sports.

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But it's usually followed by a meet and greet. Trades of this caliber always bring a "here's the new guy" session, regardless of how long he's expected to stick around. There have been plenty of new Bulls who didn't last long, from Roy Rogers to Travis Best to Larry Hughes to Hakim Warrick.

But they all stepped in and said hello.

The Deng trade didn't bring anyone back to the building. Center Andrew Bynum was waived a few hours after the deal with Cleveland became official. The Bulls' bounty is three draft picks and $20 million in salary and tax savings.

So Thursday's practice in Deerfield was just more of the same, minus the fourth-leading scorer in franchise history.

"It's still a little strange not having him around," Kirk Hinrich said. "Coming in today, his locker is next to me here. So a lot more room, but I kind of got a little nostalgic seeing it empty for the first time."

The Bulls will add a player soon, but it's likely to be a D-League call up or someone who won't slide into the rotation right away.

As for the question of where the Bulls go from here, they really have no choice but to try to make the best of this season.

Tanking would be futile, for several reasons: There is still a talented nucleus for the future, so cleaning house is not an option. Coach Tom Thibodeau said himself he's not conceding anything this season. And, the Eastern Conference is horrible.

If Deng had stayed and the Bulls were relatively healthy for the rest of the season, they probably would have finished No. 3 in the East. Even without Deng, they're currently in sixth place and have won six of their last eight games.

It's not realistic to think the Bulls could work themselves into one of the bottom five lottery spots. As it stands, the lineup doesn't look too bad, with Hinrich, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah starting, and D.J. Augustin, Tony Snell, Taj Gibson and Nazr Mohammed coming off the bench.

This group isn't likely to threaten Miami's title run, but it's an Eastern Conference playoff contender. What they should do is try to add a couple of reinforcements in case of future injuries.

"We've got to move on. I think that's the big thing. That's the nature of this league," Thibodeau said Thursday. "If you think about what happened yesterday, you won't be ready for tomorrow."

One moment of levity during the media session came when a television reporter asked Thibodeau if there's still enough in the cupboard.

"Yes," he answered. Following a long pause, Thibodeau interrupted the next question to add, "More than enough."

Some observers are expecting further moves by the Bulls. Strategically, there are a couple that could make sense. One would be moving Dunleavy, who is in demand around the league. He's owed $3 million next season, so trading him would open more cap space next summer. That's something the Bulls also could wait until after the season to do.

Another would be trading Hinrich. His contract is expiring, so that would bring no future savings. In theory, though, a team like Golden State could use a trade exception to acquire Hinrich for a draft pick. By losing that $4 million salary, the Bulls could add other players and stay below the NBA's luxury tax threshold, which could have positive implications in the future.

The cast has changed, but the plans haven't. Everyone knows Thibodeau isn't about to ease up on game preparation.

"We like our group. We enjoy playing with each other," Hinrich added. "I think we can count on each other to bring it every night and I think that goes a long way in this league."

• Follow Mike's Bulls reports on Twitter @McGrawDHBulls and check out his All Bull blog at dailyherald.com.

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