DEERFIELD, Ill.—Since a report in a New York newspaper apparently has more credence than prior stories about the topic from the reporters regularly covering the team, including this writer, a portion of Monday’s Bulls practice at the Berto Center was focused upon the rumor that forwards Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer could be traded.
Certainly if the Bulls are offered the right deal for either player—a productive young player and a first-round pick for Deng, as previously reported in this space, while a swap for Boozer would require the organization not taking back salary, according to a league source—they would absolutely consider pulling the trigger. But those types of scenarios aren’t forthcoming at the moment, a person with knowledge of the situation recently told CSNChicago.com, and while things could certainly change between now and the afternoon of Feb. 20, don’t expect the Bulls to start shopping the Duke products, preferring to instead see who calls.
If there wasn’t a fire sale in the wake of Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury, then one shouldn’t be expected now, as the Bulls are starting to find a decent rhythm offensively, aided by both their improved health and the boost provided by the acquisition of point guard D.J. Augustin. Still, with the rumor bill ramping up—no, you shouldn’t expect a trade with Cleveland to acquire the contract of Andrew Bynum, then waive him, simply to save money, let alone add him to the roster as additional big-man depth, despite his productive games against the Bulls this season—Tom Thibodeau patiently answered questions about the team’s non-imminent moves, partly by espousing his general theory on the trade deadline just being another NBA distraction.
“Usually, when you get closer to the trade deadline you hear about a lot of stuff then and you’re in control of that, whether you’re going to allow that to impact you in a negative way, but there is always talk about something. That’s the challenge of this league, not to get distracted, to concentrate on the things that are necessary to win. You’re a professional player, so the same things go into winning: Establish your routine. The things you have no control over, don’t worry about it. Do what you have to do for your team,” the Bulls head coach explained.
“You’re always talking to your players. Sometimes you do it individually, sometimes collectively, and as I said, Luol is not the only one. You have other guys that are free agents as well. So that’s part of this game. The guys that have been around, they understand that. Right now, we have to focus in on [Tuesday’s home game against] Phoenix. Don’t get sidetracked on that other stuff. There’s always something in this league, whether it’s contract related, schedule related, injury related, and I think the good teams are able to block that stuff out, focus in on the team and doing their job. That’s what you always have to lock into, and not get sidetracked on all the other stuff. Concentrate on performance. That’s what’s important.”
Boozer, a player whose name has popped up—although more as potential candidate for the amnesty clause over the summer, something that isn’t a 100-percent certainty either, as there’s no guarantee 2011 first-round draft Nikola Mirotic comes over from Spain next season and as well as Taj Gibson has played this campaign, it would have to be determined that paying Boozer to not play out the final year of his contract would be a completely prudent financial decision—gave a stock answer, but a truthful one.
“It’s just part of the business. It’s part of being in the league. You’re going to hear rumors about you or your teammates. I’ve been through it a thousand times. Just something you deal with,” the much-maligned power forward, currently battling back from a sore right knee, said of trade rumors. ”Just kind of block everything out, just try to hoop, get your team as high up [in the standings] as you can and whatever happens is going to happens. It’s part of the business. There’s a business side of basketball that a lot of fans don’t understand and a lot of media doesn’t understand, but that’s part of the business.”
“A lot of rumors are rumors and nothing ever happens. Sometimes things do happens, but it’s out of your control, so you really can’t worry about it too much,” he continued. “We hear it every year anyway. It doesn’t matter.
Fellow starter Jimmy Butler, though a younger player, offered a similar perspective: “I don’t pay any attention to any of that. I can only control what I can and what I can do out there. Each and every one of our guys can control what they can control. I feel like if you start reading into that, start getting biased about things, it may change the way you think and the way you play, so if you keep your eyes off of that stuff you have nothing to worry about.”
Thibodeau did allow that the Bulls’ front office has to be willing to at least listen to what rival management groups are willing to offer for the team’s players and that he becomes a part of that process if anything of significance develops.
“Normally this time of year you hear a lot of stuff anyway, and that’s what their job is, to see what’s going on in the league. They field calls all the time, and if a player is a good player you’re going to get more calls about him. That’s all part of it. They’re not actively seeking to move anybody, but they’re always looking to see if we can improve our club, and if something makes sense they’ll consider it. That’s what they do,” he explained.
“I don’t know every conversation that goes on. If something is interesting and they think that I should know, they’ll come to me and ask me what I think about it, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I concentrate on the guys we have here, that’s my job. Get ready for the next opponent, think about how we can win with the team we have. So whoever we have, that’s all I think about. It’s no different than—you know you asked earlier about the injured players—and if a guy is injured, I want him to concentrate on his rehab and the guys that are out there playing, concentrate on playing and performance. That’s the way it works.”
But when asked if any names have piqued his interest, the ultra-loyal coach replied tongue-in-cheek, “The ones that I have. That’s where my interests lie.”
Of course, Thibodeau couldn’t be expected to say anything else. But for once, he wasn’t just being coy about things, as there’s truly nothing afoot.
Sure, things could always change, but as much as a blockbuster trade or two would spice things up in a season that could be a repeat of a year ago—just swap out Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli for Augustin and Mike Dunleavy Jr. and with the Bulls finally over their Rose-related malaise, a playoff appearance, possibly even another second-round appearance in the woeful Eastern Conference, looks more and more likely—and be a harbinger of a wheeling-and-dealing offseason, the reality is this same grind-it-out roster will probably be around by the time Chicago thaws out this spring.