By Cody Westerlund–
(CBS) Historically, the Bulls haven’t been a team that has revamped itself through the trade market, preferring instead to build through the draft and free agency.
A season that’s been marked by in-house drama and what the team’s top basketball executive calls a lack of toughness could change that.
The Bulls are “looking at everything” on the trade market in assessing themselves as they currently sit at 15-11 entering a Christmas Day showdown against the Thunder, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said in an interview with David Schuster on 670 The Score on Friday morning.
The Bulls have been fielding calls regarding big men Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, according to multiple reports, and they’re being proactive as well, Paxson said.
The trade deadline is Feb. 18.
“We’re looking at everything,” Paxson said. “If there’s a way at some point we feel like that we need to make some changes, do something different with the roster, we will certainly. We talk to teams all the time. I know (general manager Gar Forman’s) on the phone with teams every day. If there’s a way to do something different as we look at this, we certainly will. But you need two partners to get something going, and right now’s there’s not a lot of stuff going on at this time of year. But it will all pick as we get toward February, and we’ll have a better idea of our team by then.
“Just because we haven’t done something in the past doesn’t mean we won’t do it.”
Potential trade talk as heated up in part because of Chicago’s three-game losing streak and star wing Jimmy Butler’s recent comments that Fred Hoiberg needs to coach “a lot harder” and his insinuation that Hoiberg’s laid-back style isn’t what the team needs right now. Paxson made clear he preferred those comments stay in house, and the ordeal has been addressed from management on down.
“You never like to see any of your laundry aired publicly,” Paxson said. “I know it’s more difficult in this day and age. Jimmy, the hope would’ve been that he would’ve addressed it head on with Fred, staff, teammates, whatever. Since that time, both Fred and Jimmy spoke. We’ve talked to both Fred and Jimmy about it.”
“My feeling is that as long as it’s been addressed … and the parties are there to move on, then it’ll be OK.”
There was a theme to Paxson’s interview Friday: He wants players to look in the mirror and improve their own games instead of talking about leadership and chemistry and other intangible factors.
“There’s too much talk of leadership and those types of things around our team right now,” Paxson said.
“The biggest thing as a player — and you have to understand you’re in a team sport, you’re working with other individuals — the first priority is yourself. You have to take care of yourself and have yourself ready as an individual to compete at the highest level. But then you have to also understand that leadership done in a lot of different ways. The best way to do it is going out and doing your job every single day.
“Sometimes words and trying to be a vocal type of person, that’s really not what’s important. What’s important is that you’re there every day to show them you’re about the group.”
Paxson emphasized he wants more toughness in the Bulls. He rued the Bulls missing out on loose balls and also lauded rookie Bobby Portis as the player who could possibly help give the team a better edge.
“The one thing that I think we maybe lack as much as anything is just kind of a toughness to us,” Paxson said.
“It goes beyond emotion. I think all our guys love the game, like to play. But there’s a part of you as an athlete that has to take things personally. You have to look across the way and see your opponent and you have to have some kind of fire inside of you that you want to compete against this guy and I want to get the better of him.
“A lot of times for us, it has to start on the defensive end with that one-on-one matchup, starting with our point guard on the other point guard. You have to go out and try to win that battle every night.”
Paxson also commented on point guard Derrick Rose’s continued struggles. Rose ranks among the NBA’s worst in efficiency.
So what’s the evolution of Rose’s game going to be after his athletic prowess has been sapped following three major knee surgeries?
“That’s an unknown,” Paxson said. “He’s been through a lot, and it didn’t help that one hour into our first preseason practice this year he got hit in the eye and broke that bone and was out for all of camp.
“Derrick, like a lot of our guys, needs to be more consistent. That’s not a revelation … He’s got to do things at a higher level for us to be successful.
“Derrick’s still trying to find his way. He’s shown some flashes.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.