Bulls

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg affirms that Robin Lopez has staying power

It’s easy to assume that center Robin Lopez — inactive for all six games since All-Star weekend — is in his final days with the Bulls and won’t wear the uniform again. But coach Fred Hoiberg offered a somewhat surprising not-so-fast on the topic Monday.

Last month, the Bulls had unable to find a deadline trading partner for Lopez — whose contract expires after next season — and the feeling was that they’d look to move him this offseason. Could that be wrong?

“Yeah, I think so,’’ Hoiberg said. “You need good veterans that are leaders, and Robin has been excellent in that role, and he continues to be great, even though he’s not out there in uniform. He’s still talking to our bigs every time they come off the floor. He’s yelling out coverages. He’s staying engaged.’’

Lopez and Justin Holiday have both sacrificed playing time without complaint while the front office looks at Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne — a show of character that might have the Bulls considering keeping Lopez around one more year. Of course, that could change by the draft in June, especially if the Bulls select a big with their projected lottery pick, making Lopez suddenly expendable.

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In the meantime, Lopez is just doing whatever it takes to help out and stay engaged. The 7-footer even joked he might visit local YMCAs looking for some pick-up action. Or maybe he wasn’t joking.

“I haven’t ruled that out yet,” he said. “But I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of keeping myself locked in on the bench during games. My teammates are keeping me locked in, the coaching staff, so I’m feeling pretty good right now.”

Lopez admitted he’s feeling a bit like a coach.

“Obviously not game-planning,” he said, “but on the bench, I’m definitely starting to look at it from — at least some baby steps — starting to look at it from the same perspective as coaches.”

Could that be a long-term second career for him?

Unlikely.

“Not in the NBA,” Lopez said. “I’ve done a little bit of high school coaching. Nothing big-time, but it’s interesting. It’s certainly a lot different. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”

NOTES: Hoiberg said the Bulls have plans to call up scoring guard Antonio Blakeney from the G-League in the next few weeks to get a second look at what he can do. 

• The Celtics were without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving (sore knee) on Monday.

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com