Bulls trade Kirk Hinrich

Look, the Bulls fired Jerry Sloan, after all.

And so probably ends the Bulls career of Kirk Hinrich, as close as any ever have been to the original Mr. Bull, the personification in many ways of what the Bulls represent, from the snort of the mascot to the floor burn.

Kirk Hinrich may not be remembered as the greatest Bulls player. But arguably more than anyone since, he revived and revered the spirit of Sloan, the first Bulls star whose fierce play, relentless resolve, toughness and energy reflected the essence of the franchise.

The Bulls Thursday traded Hinrich to the Atlanta Hawks, where he previously played before returning to the Bulls for the 2012-13 season. It was the quiet culmination of the NBA trade deadline, the surprise transaction—which is how it often occurs—following widespread media speculation of trades perhaps involving Pau Gasol and Taj Gibson.

The Bulls’ moves were partly financial in lowering their luxury tax debt, but also gaining roster options for the future. The Bulls received a second round pick and Justin Holiday, a 6-6 defensive-oriented shooting guard/small forward from the U. of Washington who was with the Golden State Warriors last season and could work his way onto the team next season. The Bulls also gain a trade exception.

Most of the rumors surrounding the Bulls focused on perhaps a trade of Gasol to commence a rebuilding since Gasol can be a free agent after the season. But apparently no significant offers emerged as the Bulls were not specifically looking to trade Gasol. Both Gasol and the Bulls have expressed a mutual interest in a return for next season.

There were rumors of a trade with Sacramento, but teams around the league said talks with them were made almost impossible because of previous trades they made that limited them from current moves. The Kings did not make any major moves.

With Joakim Noah out for the season and also a free agent, and Jimmy Butler and Nikola Mirotic out now and probably throughout February, it put the Bulls in a difficult position to make any substantial moves now. The feeling was there would be more opportunities after the season.

As is often the situation, there were none of the major trades speculated involving players like Dwight Howard, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Love, Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Greg Monroe and Ryan Anderson.

The Clippers may have made the biggest move Thursday acquiring Jeff Green for Lance Stephenson. Several of the Eastern Conference teams may have helped themselves. The Hornets previously added Courtney Lee as the Grizzlies shed players with Marc Gasol hurt. The Pistons added Tobias Harris earlier and Thursday Donatas Montiejunas and Marcus Thornton as they likely moved into serious playoff consideration. Brandon Jennings went to Orlando, and Markieff Morris ended up in Washington.

The Cavaliers added Channing Frye for Anderson Varejao and the Thunder acquired Randy Foye from Denver.

“Obviously we’re all disappointed with where we are today, the players, coaches, front office,” said Bulls general manager Gar Forman. “We’re all accountable. But we know we are going to get better. Injuries have been a factor. Not an excuse. But we have not had our full roster all season. It is hard to have success without that continuity. We understand the fans are frustrated. We are frustrated. But we still feel we can get healthy and make the playoffs. Then we’ll see what happens.

“When the season is over we will evaluate things and make the changes that need to be made,” said Forman. “We understand there needs to be changes. We were very active exploring the market. But at the end of the day nothing made sense. We are disappointed, but we were not in a panic mode. There wasn’t something we felt presented itself that was significant enough to do something now.

“We still want to give this group a chance to come back this year and play together,” said Forman. “It hasn’t for a lot of reasons thus far met expectations.”

Forman also said he and the organization are pleased with coach Fred Hoiberg.

“He’s extremely smart,” said Forman. “He has great knowledge of the game. He has a good way with people. Of course, there are areas where he can grow. Under the circumstances he has done well. He’s worked hard and done well with injuries, a new system, a veteran team. There have been ups and downs and Fred needs to grow, also. But Fred has a bright future.

“We value Pau,” added Forman. “Teams called about him and it’s our job to listen. It is not true we shopped Pau. We see him as part of our core. We picked up an asset in a young player, a trade exception.”

For the Bulls, the trade of Hinrich was perhaps more for bookkeeping and future positioning as the first stages of the team’s transition begin.

But it shouldn’t be overlooked how much Hinrich quietly has contributed to the franchise and that his coming marked the start of the Bulls comeback from the depths of the lost six years under Tim Floyd and the post-Jordan hangover.

“Great teammate, a guy who has done a lot of wonderful things for this franchise,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg. “He’ll be missed. He did a lot of things for us, but at the same time we understand it is a business. Kirk always brought a level of toughness. He’s a very good on ball defender, always was in the right spot.”

And for the Bulls as well.

The Bulls endured the worst six-year record in league history after the end of the championship run in 1998.

It effectively began to change with the drafting at No. 7 in 2003 of Hinrich, the make-no-excuses, take-no-crap, bulldog of a point guard. It was the second coming of the Sloan profile, the ground based guard who had the big men zig zagging down the court to avoid the charges he was taking, the guy who more than anyone had the backs of his teammates. If there was a teammate who took a cheap shot or hard foul, there was Hinrich to deliver one of his own. It’s something the Bulls have lacked in recent years with Hinrich’s injuries and diminished playing time.

The Bulls didn’t win any titles during Hinrich’s tenure. And when they went to the conference finals in 2011 the only time, Hinrich was with Atlanta. He’d been let go to Washington in 2010 so the Bulls could pursue LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in free agency. But after the 2011-12 season with the Hawks, he elected to return to the Bulls and the Chicago area, where his family was comfortable and he planned to make his home.

His name isn’t on any of the championship banners, but he is an all-timer, as Bulls teammates jokingly called him this season. That was after Hinrich became the team’s alltime three-point leader in threes taken and made.

It’s just one of many categories Hinrich ranks among the franchise’s alltime leaders.

He is third in games played and seasons, fourth in minutes, third in steals, assists and fouling out—of course–and top 10 in field goals attempted and made. Hinrich also has been a team season leader various and multiple times in steals, assists, three pointers and minutes played.

<p“I was surprised,” Hinrich said Thursday about being traded. “But after it sinking in after a few hours, I realize it’s a chance to move forward and an opportunity to be with a really good team. I feel fortunate to have come to have come to Chicago and have played a long time here. It will always be a part of me.”

A few months back after Hinrich established another of the franchise records, I sat with him to talk about his career with the Bulls. He’s not usually one to talk about himself, though Hinrich has had a remarkable basketball career.

He was an Iowa high school co-Mr. Basketball along with future college teammate Nick Collison and led his basketball team to an 82-9 record as a three-sport star as also a quarterback and baseball pitcher. At the U. of Kansas, he helped his team to consecutive Final Fours and the championship game against Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse as a senior and was Midwest Region Most Outstanding Player. His No. 10 jersey was retired in 2009. He also played for USA Basketball in the 2006 World Championships.

“I wasn’t like a guy who was going to come in and be great right away,” Hinrich said. “I had some skill set and played hard, but somehow found a way to figure it out. Just being on teams where we were just trying to get the respect back. We were just trying to get the respect around the league, win games, prove ourselves as players.

“I’ve tried to base everything on winning,” said Hirnich. “Obviously haven’t had a championship. But that’s part of it. I’ve had good mentors. I grew up a big Bulls fan. To be drafted here and play most of my career here is such a blessing.”

Not as much to have been a teammate or a fan watching his play and commitment. He will be missed.