CLEVELAND—The Bulls were quiet at the trade deadline with the exception of lowering their luxury tax deal by trading veteran Kirk Hinrich and acquiring Justin Holiday.
No big time moves, no trading off Pau Gasol or adding a big name to stem the tide from a disappointing first 50-plus games of the season.
The Bulls will regroup in the offseason, general manager Gar Forman told CSNChicago.com in a phone interview shortly after the deadline passed.
“We were very active going into the trade deadline but nothing made sense today,” Forman said.
Forman called Gasol “very valuable” to the Bulls franchise and reiterated the team’s intentions to retain Gasol in free agency this summer when he opts out of his contract to hit the market for one last payday.
He did want to dispute the reports the Bulls were heavily shopping Gasol over the last couple days, which was corroborated by a league executive from another franchise yesterday afternoon in a text to CSNChicago.com, saying the Bulls “took calls” on Gasol.
“We were thrilled when he chose to come to Chicago,” Forman said. “He’s been good on the floor and off the floor with his leadership. We value him greatly. We made no calls to 'shop' Pau. Did we receive calls? Of course we did. It’s our job to listen to what calls are made and have a pulse. The rumors that he was being shopped are false.”
What Forman admitted is true is the Bulls’ lackluster season to date. Inconsistency has been the case across the board as several players counted on to step up haven’t filled expectations.
The likes of Tony Snell, Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic, players the Bulls drafted and invested in, have come up short or in some cases, have been completely nonexistent.
“It’s been a disappointment and we have underachieved,” Forman said. “We’re disappointed and our fans are. We’re accountable from front office to players to coaches.”
He disputed the belief the Bulls came into the season with championship expectations but there’s no doubt nobody expected falling to seventh in the East with their recent slide before the All-Star break.
“We felt had a chance to compete at a high level,” Forman said. “One of the biggest reasons why was continuity with your roster. We haven’t with our injuries. It’s not an excuse but it’s a fact. Starting unit hasn’t spent a single day in practice together. It’s a lot of reasons why we’re disappointed at where we are today.”
Mike Dunleavy’s back injury resulted in surgery before training camp, and Derrick Rose took an inadvertent elbow from Taj Gibson to the eye that resulted in double vision that’s affected him for the first two months of the season.
Joakim Noah’s shoulder injury has him out for the rest of the season and now, Jimmy Butler’s left knee strain has him out for 3-4 weeks, a critical blow as they go through a treacherous stretch for the franchise and new coach Fred Hoiberg.
Hoiberg’s new offense has had some highlights but it’s been spotty at best, while the defense has slipped markedly, an aspect that used to be a mainstay.
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Hoiberg, a first-year coach, jumbled the situation involving Noah being removed from the starting lineup in training camp and was called out by Butler in the hopes of being tougher on the players in late December.
“I think Fred’s a very good basketball coach,” Forman said. “He’s extremely sharp, communicates well and an extremely hard worker. Dealt with a difficult situation well.”
“That said he knows he needs to continue to grow. There’s bumps in the road, and we knew there would be ups and downs. But we’re excited about the future.”
For his part, Forman said he wanted to see how this group could deal with a new system and new coach as opposed to making wholesale moves—that is, before things began falling apart.
“We understand the frustration. We’re very hard on ourselves. Up to this point, the ups and downs and not meeting expectations,” Forman said. “Everybody needs to take ownership and be accountable and continue to evaluate ourselves to get where we want to get.”
This summer, Forman said “we’ll hit the offseason and get better,” in reference to the Bulls having salary cap space as money from the new TV contracts will be infused to teams.
At that point, they’ll regroup in what should be a summer of change.
“We have to evaluate our entire team and we’ll have to make decisions,” Forman said. “Our hope (now) is we can get healthy and have rhythm, get into the playoffs and make some noise.”