The Chicago Bulls currently find themselves without All-Star guard Jimmy Butler for the next three-to-four weeks. They are also without the services of Joakim Noah for the remainder of the season and Nikola Mirotic for at least the next three weeks.
All this comes on the heels of Chicago dropping 12 of its past 17 and falling to just three games over .500 following Monday’s 17-point loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
In an improved Eastern Conference where it might actually take a winning record to earn a playoff spot, the Bulls find themselves among the bottom rung of contenders heading into the All-Star break.
With injuries mounting and a scheme being utilized by first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg that doesn’t necessarily fit the talent on the roster, there is very little hope that Chicago can make a run in the Eastern Conference following the All-Star break.
And even if the Bulls were to inch into the playoffs, no one in their right mind believes they would be able to contend with the Cleveland Cavaliers or Toronto Raptors in a best-of-seven series.
That conclusion can be drawn simply based on the injuries the team has suffered this year.
So what does the brass in Chicago decide to do between now and the trade deadline?
If the team is fully prepared to look towards the future, it has one major trade chip on the roster. Pau Gasol, 35, can opt out of his contract following the 2015-16 season — something he might very well be inclined to do in order to collect one more long-term deal before he calls it quits.
There’s no telling whether Gasol would even consider re-signing with the Bulls should he decide to use that opt-out clause in his deal.
Why not flip him for either a couple young pieces or salary cap fillers and a couple draft picks? This is the forward-thinking philosophy that has worked for other teams that have revamped their rosters on the run.
It’s not necessarily the start of a rebuild. Instead, it’s all about figuring out the place you are in at that particular moment in time and thinking ahead.
If Gasol were to be put on the trade block prior to the deadline later this month, we would receive a ton of interest.
Who wouldn’t want to add a veteran big that can spread out a defense with a mid-range jumper that’s among the best in the game? Gasol is averaging 17.0 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists while shooting 48 percent from the field this season.
Another player Chicago could potentially send packing in return for some future assets is reserve forward Taj Gibson, one of the toughest players at his position in the NBA.
Gibson has previously been a highly sought-after commodity on the trade market, which isn’t completely lost on the Bulls’ brass. A tough guy with a keen eye for defense, Gibson is averaging 8.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this year.
Moving Gibson would also allow the Bulls to get 2015 first-round pick Bobby Portis some more playing time. The Arkansas product has shown some flashes in limited playing action this year, and fits more into the team’s future plans than Gibson.
You can’t tell me a team like Golden State, who has lost Festus Ezeli for the next month and a half, wouldn’t express some interest in Gibson. In reality, the market would be rather robust for his services.
We can also add in lower-end options that might bring Chicago a decent-level return. Those names include Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks.
Fans want their teams to be all about the here and now. That in and of itself is a narrow point of view that should be left up to those cheering for a team.
Chicago is going nowhere fast this season, a reality it must take seriously in order to avoid being irrelevant into the future. If that means trading a proven player or two, then so be it.