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updated: 2/18/2014 10:20 PM

Bulls sign big man Varnado

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Just guessing here, but Jarvis Varnado probably was not wearing his Miami Heat championship ring when he walked into the Bulls' locker room for the first time Tuesday.

The Bulls signed the 6-foot-10 Varnado to a 10-day contract, and he participated in Tuesday's practice at the Berto Center.

Varnado had been playing in the D-League for the Iowa Energy, averaging 14.1 points, 11 rebounds and 4.7 blocks. But his claim to fame is becoming the all-time NCAA blocked shots leader during his college years at Mississippi State. Varnado, a native of Brownsville, Tenn., swatted 564 shots in 141 college games.

Asked what he knows about the Bulls' newest player, coach Tom Thibodeau quickly replied, "He blocks shots. We followed him in college and, of course, D-League and Boston and Miami. He's gotten better. He has a lot of the qualities we're looking for. We're excited to have him here."

Varnado was a second-round pick of the Heat in 2010, played in Italy, Israel and the D-League before making his NBA debut last season with Boston.

After appearing in five games with the Celtics, he joined Miami on Jan. 9 and stayed through the NBA Finals, but played in just eight games for the Heat. He was released by Miami during training camp this season, essentially clearing a spot for Greg Oden.

When he was entering the NBA draft, Varnado was measured with a wingspan of 7-feet-3.5 inches but wasn't an explosive leaper by NBA standards, with a maximum vertical of 32.5 inches.

Thibodeau said because the Bulls don't have a glaring need right now, they saw Varnado as the best player available to sign a 10-day contract.

Shengelia returns:

Besides adding Varnado, the Bulls also welcomed back power forward Toko Shengelia on Tuesday. Shengelia has been away from the team for a couple of weeks, returning to the Republic of Georgia after the death of his grandfather.

Asked if he'd be more likely to use Shengelia, Varnado or Erik Murphy in a big-man pinch, coach Tom Thibodeau wasn't certain.

"Toko, he missed a lot of time. He's probably a little more familiar with what we're doing," Thibodeau said. "But we also have the flexibility to go with Mike Dunleavy at the 4, Jimmy (Butler) at the 4, Murph at the 4 -- depending on whether we need shot-blocking, we need energy, whatever it is that we need.

"We're not afraid to use Toko, not afraid to use Jarvis. The guys that have been here certainly have a little bit more of an advantage because they've been here a lot longer and understand what we're trying to get done."

Murphy staying ... for now:

The Bulls were obligated to sign a 13th player this week, per NBA rules. They're allowed to stay at 12 for two weeks, and they were granted an extension to wait until after the all-star break. They've had 12 on the roster since Mike James' 10-day contract expired Jan. 31.

The team is taking its time in order to avoid paying the luxury tax. The NBA's latest collective-bargaining agreement contains more severe penalties for teams that pay the luxury tax more than three times in four years.

At some point, the Bulls probably will bring back James and maybe sign a big man for the remainder of the season.

Asked if the addition of Jarvis Varnado could prompt the Bulls to send rookie Erik Murphy on a D-League assignment, coach Tom Thibodeau said it's a possibility.

"I like having subs in practice, certainly for Jo (Noah) and Carlos (Boozer)," Thibodeau said. "If there's a period of time where we don't have a lot of practice time, maybe we send him down for a couple of games. We're open-minded about it."

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