With the trade deadline less than a day away, activity has picked up around the NBA as teams are looking to unload and reload with an eye to the playoffs or to the draft in June.
The Bulls have been lightly involved in trade talks involving Taj Gibson and more recently Pau Gasol, although a league source cautioned that the Bulls aren’t “shopping” Gasol, but that they’re open to trading him.
Gasol will opt-out of his contract this offseason to hit the free-agent market one last time for a long-term contract that will likely carry him into retirement.
As for Gibson, the Bulls have reportedly been asking for players and a first-round pick, which was confirmed by a couple front office executives around the league.
However, a source said of Gibson, “he’s not going anywhere."
Gibson discussed the trade rumors at Wednesday's practice.
“It could be worse. People could not be saying your name at all,” he said. “But it comes with it when the team is underachieving, you gotta kind of shake up things. I see what’s out there. But I’m no stranger [to this]. Since my rookie year I’ve been in trade rumors a lot, so it’s nothing new for me.”
The Bulls’ motivation appears to be shifting from win-now to avoiding the luxury tax and punitive repeater tax, as they were last in the luxury tax in 2012-13, being nearly $4 million over.
With their current salary around $88.5 million, it places them a little more than $4 million over the luxury tax apron of $84.7 million, which was set in the offseason. The Bulls once had champagne dreams in the offseason and even into the season, but the recent tailspin has perhaps changed things and could not be as willing to be in the luxury tax for a team that could tumble out of the playoffs.
For now, though, it’s been all talk. For now.
Teams have been reluctant to give up valuable, cost-controlled first-round picks as the cap is scheduled to rise exponentially this summer.
“That’s a great question, this time of year, I know those guys are up there making their calls,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “We’ll see what happens. First two trades happened yesterday, has anything else happened today? We’ll see what happens, how things progress over the next 24 hours.”
Hoiberg spent time in the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office before going to coach at Iowa State, paving the way to take over in Chicago last summer. Clearly he knows how these conversations work.
“People just lie to each other up until those last 48 hours and then conversations finally become serious,” he said.
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In other words, a team could get desperate or the Bulls could lower their asking price for Gasol or Gibson. There appears to be a large gap between the best teams in the NBA and the ones striving for elite status, so the thought of a two-month rental for Gasol could be worth it for some teams.
“An offer could be made and things could be shaken up. It’s a part of the business,” Gibson said. “It doesn’t mean they don’t like you or don’t appreciate you. It’s just that it’s a business. I totally understand it.”
But never discount the Bulls’ thinking that when they get healthy, they could make a run in the Eastern Conference, fearing no team this side of Cleveland. Whether that’s true or not remains to be seen.
“We had stretches when we won games and everyone was completely healthy,” Gibson said. “And it’s tough. You gotta understand. We got a new coach. We have the same players, but new little young guys. We still gotta work through it. Every team goes through this.”