CLEVELAND – Thursday was just so Bulls.
Use the cover of numerous trade rumors to disguise an uneasiness to actually pull off a major deal, and then quietly sneak out of the back door once the afternoon deadline came and went, insisting this was “not the time to panic,’’ as general manager Gar Forman told reporters.
It didn’t stop there, however. It rarely does with this franchise.
They did pull off a minor move to make them more luxury-tax friendly, trading Kirk Hinrich to Atlanta to get back a 2018 second-round pick from Utah, as well as Justin Holiday and another $2.5 million off their tax hit, so there was that to not be excited about.
And then how did the new-look, old-look, standing-pat Bulls finish off the evening? Going out and getting steamrolled by the first-place Cleveland Cavaliers, 106-95, at the Quicken Loans Arena for their fifth-consecutive loss.
Again, just so 27-26 Bulls.
“Well yeah, absolutely we do,’’ first-year coach Fred Hoiberg said, when asked if standing pat has now put even more pressure on him and his staff righting the ship. “Everyone in our locker room knows that. We got to go out there and have our best stretch.
“Looking back on our season, the early part of January we got 10 games above .500. We were 22-12. We’ve got to get back to playing the basketball that led to that stretch, including that six-game winning streak. I know our guys in there believe. Obviously getting healthy is a big part of it. But yeah, we need to be together for the rest of the season.’’
The front office made sure they would be – for better or worse.
While multiple NBA sources said that the Bulls were actively taking calls on Taj Gibson and Pau Gasol, their asking prices on both were said to be unrealistic. One source pointed out that the biggest hurdle was while there might have been deals that helped the team down the road, there was no deal that improved them this season. Especially one that involved moving Gasol.
If they moved Gasol and then fell short of making the playoffs after firing a coach in Tom Thibodeau who made the playoffs every season he was in that chair …
“It would have been a real PR nightmare for [Forman and John Paxson],’’ the source said.
In taking the safe way out, the front office can at least hope for a first-round playoff series with Gasol intact, and spin it as a season of injuries and growing pains under a new system. That’s much easier for a fan base to digest than the truth of sabotaging Thibodeau last season, and there being a carry-over effect throughout this year.
Then again, if they play like they did against the Cavaliers Thursday night, well, Gasol or not, they still might not see the postseason.
Even without Jimmy Butler (left knee) and Nikola Mirotic (appendicitis and hematoma), the Bulls found themselves only down 48-42 at the half thanks to 18 points from Derrick Rose. Then they made the mistake of waking the sleeping giant up, as Taj Gibson and J.R. Smith got into a shoving match with just under 10 minutes left in the third, leading to a 7-2 Cavs run and a 17-point hole too deep to climb out of.
“We just gotta stay together,’’ Rose, who finished with 28 points, said of the latest loss. “Through the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s the ugly right now. We know the only place we can go is up.’’