The Bulls stood firm with their roster by the Thursday NBA Trade Deadline as injuries have made it difficult to evaluate the potential of core players.
The winds of change blew through the NBA with the Thursday trade deadline. Former All-Stars, top draft picks and pivotal role players like Andrew Wiggins, Andre Drummond, Marcus Morris, Glenn Robinson III, Andre Iguodala, D'Angelo Russell, Justice Winslow, Jabari Parker, Evan Turner and Isaiah Thomas changed teams.
The Bulls then hosted the New Orleans Pelicans and star rookie Zion Williamson without any changes. Bulls Executive Vice-President of Basketball Operations John Paxson told reporters Thursday before the game the Bulls weren't seeking to be major players in the trade market because of the ongoing priority to evaluate the core of players, many of whom are injured.
"We weren't going to be buyers, per se," Paxson said. "Just given the fact the roster and the way we have it right now and the fact we've had kind of a disjointed year with the injuries, we weren't going to trade Zach (LaVine), Lauri (Markkanen), Wendell (Carter Jr.), Coby (White) because we don't know what we have yet. We need to see. We've known that all year long.
"(General manager) Gar (Forman) was on the phone a lot with teams," Paxson said. "We made a deal last trade deadline we were hopeful would help us. Obviously, Otto (Porter Jr.) has had a lot of injuries since he's been here. The way we are looking at right now, we anticipate that Lauri, Otto and Wendell are going to be back by the end of this month and they can get back on the floor and we can get them playing together a little bit and see where we're at. "I said it earlier this year that we haven't played as well as we all hoped we would," Paxson acknowledged. "And that was when outside of Otto we still had a fairly healthy roster. Now the injuries have really hit us. We need to get those guys back and play. Relevancy will depend on the growth of those guys, in particular Lauri, Wendell, Coby, Chandler (Hutchison). We're still in that position. There's no quick solution to it when you're trying to develop players. And that's what we're trying to do."
Both Thad Young and Denzel Valentine, the latter out Thursday with a sore hamstring, were most rumored for possible deals. It seems nothing was close. Both said they look forward to moving on with the team.
"Obviously you sit by the TV and see everything that is going on; you see all the crazy stuff that happened like Drummond going to Cleveland," Young said with a laugh. "You see how D-Lo goes to Minnesota to switch with Wigs. You just sit back and watch everything and whatever happens happens. For me personally, like I've always said, it's all about going out there hooping and just playing. It's all about what they (management) want to do as far as how they make their moves. For me, whatever team I'm on at the time it's just to go out and play."
Young said his agent told him there were myriad inquiries. The rumors were the Clippers were interested, but they traded for the Knicks Marcus Morris.
"At the end of the day it's just interest," said Young. "Feelers and stuff like that. I didn't think about it. When it's over the good thing is it's over and you can move on with the season and continue to try to get better and stay the course. Continue to try to win games and seeing if we can potentially get to the eighth spot and other than that see if we can get better with this group and try to help this group get better as a young team."
Similarly, Valentine said he's looking forward to the rest of the season.
"I thought there was a chance (of a trade), but you just can't control that stuff," Valentine said. "You don't know what is going to happen. So try not to think about it too much. I'm so grateful to be a Chicago Bull. This franchise is legendary, historic. I'm in the NBA. I'm excited to be here. I have great teammates. So we'll see what happens at the end of the year. But for now I'm just going to try to get back playing again and then get back to doing what I do."
"Like I said, I got drafted here, 14th pick; I was very excited to be a Chicago Bull," Valentine said. "Still am. And I'm here to be a Bull for the rest of the year. I'm gong to come out and keep working hard and whatever happens happens. That's not in my control. I can control what I can do, which is working hard and being a good teammate and coming to work and being positive every day."
With the injured players due back after the All-Star break, the Bulls hold out the hope for the playoffs as well as, especially said Paxson, determining the status of their young players. Particularly Lauri Markkanen.
"Lauri, we believe in at a high level and we view him as a cornerstone player," said Paxson. "It's our responsibility to help him become the type of player we believe he can be. We've had direct communication with him, with his agent. I've spoke to (his agent) in the last couple hours because of things that are out there (speculation about Markkanen unhappiness). We've never been told Lauri doesn't want to be here. It's obvious he's not had the type of year in terms of shot attempts that he's had in the past. We communicate that. Jim (coach Boylen) and I talk about it. We've addressed it with Lauri and his rep. Our responsibility is to put our players in a position to succeed and get better. We believe in Lauri Markkanen; we'd never waver from that.
"I know Zach has been frustrated; all of them have," Paxson said about the disappointing season. "Thad gets frustrated as a vet. We have to keep long term in mind in term of our young guys in how they get better and how they develop; that's going to be the key to our future.
"Teams are always trying to chase (trades) a little bit and see if they can get something that they value for nothing or very little." Paxson said. "We've seen it for years. We never would've entertained (it). It would've had to have been something that truly improved our future, and teams weren't going to help us out in that regard. There were discussions. Like Denzel's name came up, but Denzel is still a restricted free agent this offseason as is Kris Dunn. So we still value them. We've had so many injuries that we really need to get everybody healthy and see who fits and who doesn't.
"Our expectation is the way these guys are working right now is that Lauri, Otto and Wendell will be back sometime around the end of the month, the first of March," said Paxson. "And if we can do that, then you've got 20, 22 games that they can play and see where we are. We're going to focus again on the rest of this year. We'll get into the draft and all those type of things when the season ends. You can position yourself for anything, but you never know what the reality is going to be . I don't think we've ever said we're banking on anything in that. What we have said is that we've been trying to put together a very competitive team that you would hope players would want to come play for. Right now we're not where we want to be in that regard and that's an honest answer."