The Bulls are hard to figure, but they can still make noise in the playoffs

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The Bulls unloaded aging backup guard Kirk Hinrich at the trade deadline Thursday and did nothing else.

You could say the team is standing pat for the rest of the season with what it has. Which might be junk.

On Friday night at the United Center, as the first quarter against the Raptors was closing, here was the Bulls’ lineup: Aaron Brooks, Tony Snell, Cristiano Felicio, Doug McDermott, Bobby Portis.

Yes, that was the second unit. But second units often are fighting to become first units.

And do any of those players seem like big-timers?

I happen to like Portis. I think he can be better than current starting forward Taj Gibson someday. Portis turned 21 a week and a half ago. He’s raw and, let’s hope, hungry.

McDermott might turn into something if he learns how to play better defense and becomes the deadeye gunner he was in college. He has, as Stacey King hollers, ‘‘sneaky hops.’’ Maybe someday he’ll even get a foul called in his favor.

But, still, the Bulls look like a team that might contend for a bottom-feeding, lucky-to-be-here spot in the playoffs. Which is exactly where they are right now.

Some fans wanted to see high-flying Kings guard Ben McLemore become a Bull in a trade. Maybe for aging big man Pau Gasol. Didn’t happen.

Indeed, general manager Gar Forman called the talented but slow-footed and 35-year-old Gasol a ‘‘core’’ member of the Bulls. Interesting.

The biggest problem now is that it’s impossible to say who or what this team is. At times coach Fred Hoiberg seems like a vapor, almost invisible. Without injured star Jimmy Butler, the Bulls seem to have no core.

But it could be that Derrick Rose is still the nerve center. Yet he needs to prove that he can be consistently, night after night, what he used to be. Missing a game because of ‘‘general body soreness’’ doesn’t hack it.

One encouraging sign is that Rose seems to have mastered the fading art of the short and midrange bank shot — a shot that is not practiced by many but which actually increases one’s chances of scoring because of the angle and arc of the release. Gotta shoot over a big man? Use the glass.

As an aside, I recall watching a UCLA practice many years ago when John Wooden’s players had to — had to — bank the ball when shooting at certain spots on the floor. Because of the favorable odds. You think the Wizard of Westwood was dumb?

At any rate, short of demanding the firing of Forman or the reassignment of president John Paxson or the cashiering of young Hoiberg, who barely has had a chance to grab the steering wheel, we should ponder what might be right with this team.

This is hard to do, granted.

LeBron James’ Cavaliers loom like an unpassable crater in the Bulls’ fantasy map to the top. If you can’t beat the Cavs — and Cleveland smoked the Bulls on Thursday — then what’s the use?

But we don’t own the Bulls; Jerry Reinsdorf does. And if he’s standing pat, then let’s embrace it or snooze in the Barcalounger until March Madness.

Here’s what my rose-colored glasses can almost see: Butler’s bad knee heals, and he comes back refreshed. The lean, bearded one — Nikola Mirotic — returns after his appendectomy mess and feels no gastric distress.

Somehow, the Bulls finish in the top six in the East and draw a beatable team such as the Celtics or Hawks in the first round. McDermott (30 points off the bench in the 116-106 win over the Raptors) stays insane, and suddenly the Bulls’ starters — Rose, Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Gasol and Gibson (or Mirotic) — play like a tuned violin.

The Bulls advance to the second round and . . . ah, it gets cloudy here. Who knows? Maybe they luck out. Maybe King James gets tired, hurt, old. Maybe he runs off to shoot ‘‘Trainwreck 2: The Prison Years.’’

It’s hard to figure out what the Bulls are doing after Paxson and Forman fired Tom Thibodeau and brought in Hoiberg, mimicking in so many ways the Tim Floyd-replaces-Phil Jackson disaster era.

But hope is better than despair. So let’s see what develops with the Bulls down the stretch.

This summer, everything can be blown up if needed. Kaboom has a ring to it.

Follow me on Twitter  @ricktelander.


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