By Cody Westerlund–
(CBS) On a Thursday in which the downward-trending Bulls made little noise as the trade deadline passed by, general manager Gar Forman sang the praises of hanging on to big man Pau Gasol and reiterated a belief in the current roster that has yet to find cohesion and which remains injury-depleted, mired in seventh place in the Eastern Conference at 27-25.
“The hope is still … that we can get the rest of our roster on the floor, get in a rhythm and hopefully make the playoffs and be a competitive team,” Forman told 670 The Score.
The Bulls made one move Thursday, trading veteran guard Kirk Hinrich to the Hawks in a three-team deal that netted them guard Justin Holiday and a 2018 second-round pick from the Jazz. It did little to move the needle or change the team’s future fortunes.
The Bulls could’ve taken a bigger step toward a roster revamping had they chosen to move the All-Star Gasol, but that never materialized. Chicago and Sacramento had discussions centered on a Gasol swap for Kosta Koufos and Ben McLemore, according to multiple reports, but the Bulls didn’t desire to part with Gasol, who plans to opt out of of the final season of his contract to become a free agent this summer.
The Bulls want to re-sign Gasol, who turns 36 in July, with Forman calling him part of the team’s core. Gasol’s been an All-Star in each of his two seasons in Chicago, consistently producing offensively but also too often being exploited defensively.
“We never, ever shopped Pau,” Forman said. “That is absolutely false. We value Pau. We value what he brings to this team, on the floor, off the floor. We were thrilled when he decided to come here a couple years ago. Did teams call us and ask about him? Of course they did. A lot of our players were asked about. That’s our job to listen. That’s our to have a finger on what’s going on around the league, what the landscape is. But we value Pau and absolutely never shopped him.
“Pau is such a skilled player and his game is based on skill and IQ and length. Usually players with those types of talents and tools age well, and that’s been the case with Pau.”
Gasol confirmed earlier Thursday that the Bulls are the leader to re-sign him when he hits the open market this summer, but there’s no guarantee there. And with the salary cap spiking because of the new television deal, there could be unforseen dynamics.
It leaves the Bulls in a situation in which they could watch him walk for nothing, all in the name of a fruitless attempt at mounting a charge in the season’s final two months.
“We were very, very active, had a lot of talks on a lot of different subjects, but at the end of the day as we evaluated things, there was nothing that we felt that was strong enough both short term and long term to pull the trigger today,” Forman said. “I know our fans are disappointed. We’re disappointed on where we are today and that we haven’t achieved the level that we thought we’d achieve. We hold ourselves accountable, to our players to our coaches to our front office. But with that said, we’re not going to panic. We’ve dealt with a lot of injuries. I’m not using that as an excuse, but that’s a fact. We haven’t had our entire roster together even for a single day of practice this year.”
Forman also hinted that Chicago could bring back 30-year-old big man Joakim Noah, who’s out for the season with a shoulder injury and headed for free agency.
“Joakim’s been a huge part of what we’ve done here and the level of success we’ve had over the last decade,” he said. “We very much value Jo and what he brings. We miss him very much.
“We’re optimistic going into the summer that Joakim will want to remain a Bull. We’ll have those conversations when July hits.”
Forman expressed confidence in the job of first-year coach Fred Hoiberg.
“Fred’s done well under the circumstances,” Forman said. “Again, walking into a difficult situation because of a veteran roster and now being ravaged by the injuries. It’s been difficult for Fred. Obviously, he’s very bright. He’s got a high basketball IQ. He knows the game inside and out. He’s got a great way with people, and he’s an extremely hard worker. So we think the future’s really, really bright. With that said, we knew because of some of those reasons, there’d be bumps in the road. I think Fred would be the first to tell you that he needs to continue to grow as well.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.