John Paxson and the Bulls’ front office felt like they hit trade-deadline gold

A little bit of financial cleanup to the roster, a gamble on swapping second-round picks in 2022 and a free look at former first-round pick Noah Vonleh for the remainder of the season summed up the Bulls’ activity Thursday at the trade deadline.

But the real find happened last week when vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman struck “gold’’ in the Nikola Mirotic trade.

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Acquiring future first-round picks was no easy task as the deadline was winding down for the Bulls, with only three changing hands. That’s why they can feel good about where they stand after the deadline.

“Very pleased,’’ Paxson said. “Draft picks, especially first-rounders, are becoming like gold to a lot of franchises, because in these markets where cost certainty for young players is something you can have, you know, it’s a big thing.

“We look at it this way: We got the three young guys [Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn] when we made the [Jimmy Butler] trade for last year, we’re going to have two [first-round] picks most likely in this draft, and we’ve got Bobby [Portis] and Denzel [Valentine] as young guys.

“That’s seven young pieces, and we just need to continue to develop them, grow, and make the smart decisions, not get in a rush.’’

Paxson had multiple teams inquire about veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, but they wanted to send bad multiyear contracts in return.

The Bulls were fine taking on one multiyear deal in Omer Asik in the Mirotic trade, but that’s because they deemed Asik’s contract reasonable and also landed the Pelicans’ protected first-round pick.

Those deals weren’t being offered up Thursday.

“You talk about building and when you get cost certainty with a young player for the first four or five years, that’s a huge thing,’’ Paxson said of first-round draft value. “During that time, you have to find out who they are and if they’re part of your future.

“They’re just not moved very frequently anymore.’’

The Bulls hope that expiring contracts will continue to gain importance, and by the summer they can decide on both Lopez and Holiday, who are signed through next season.

The Bulls, however, did make some headway. They sent veteran guard Jameer Nelson to the Pistons for troubled center Willie Reed and swapped second-round picks in 2022. They immediately waived Reed, and then traded the rights to Milovan Rakovic for Vonleh and cash.

Vonleh, 22, was drafted No. 9 overall by the Hornets in 2014 but was traded to the Trail Blazers one year later. In 210 games, the 6-9 power forward has averaged 3.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.

It’s a no-harm, no-foul situation for the Bulls, who can look at the restricted free-agent and decide if his career can be resurrected.

“For us, when you determine your direction, I think your decisions become more clear,’’ Paxson said. “At this deadline, could we have done some things for veteran players? We could have. But if it doesn’t make complete sense to us, I think there will be things down the road that if we want to go that direction that will be better than what we could’ve gotten now.’’

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Email: jcowley@suntimes.com