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Focus on Gibson, Butler in second half for Bulls

Updated: March 19, 2014 6:33AM



There are 678,595 reasons why the Bulls won’t be buyers when the NBA trade deadline comes and goes Thursday.

That’s how much they’re below the luxury-tax line since unloading Luol Deng in January.

But selling is a different story. Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich could become movable assets if the right deal comes along.

With a 27-25 record at the All-Star break, however, there are still some goals to accomplish in the last two months of the regular season.

All is quiet

Several sources indicated that the trade deadline could be a quiet one, and that was backed by Bulls vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman last week.

“You have to put yourself in the other team’s position,’’ Paxson said. “People just don’t give up great players.’’

What about something small?

“This time of year, we’re in contact with all 29 teams,’’ Forman said. “Obviously, at this point, nothing has presented itself.’’

And it shouldn’t. Forman and Paxson have some huge decisions to make this summer if LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony opt out of their deals. There’s no reason to clear more space until they know if there’s a reason to clear it.

Buying high means sitting tight for now.

Gibson’s time

The Bulls are 5-1 when Taj Gibson starts for Carlos Boozer. With Boozer likely an amnesty candidate this summer, why not start Gibson and get him ready for the workload he’ll assume next season?

And if the Bulls are forced to trade Gibson to make room for a max-deal free agent, his stock only goes up when teams see his splits as a starter and bench player (19.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks as a starter compared to 11.8 points, six rebounds and 1.5 blocks as a reserve).

Butler’s time

Jimmy Butler has had an up-and down year, but he’s a key component for next season. The third-year swingman played his best basketball of the 2012-13 season in April, and the Bulls would like to see a repeat so they can confidently deem Butler their shooting guard of the future.

Full-court press

D.J. Augustin said last week that he’d be willing to re-sign with the Bulls for a bit of a discount after they basically resurrected his ­career, but he wanted to wait until the summer.

With Hinrich a free agent and no other point guards on the active roster, the Bulls should be the aggressors and approach Augustin with an offer to test that loyalty as soon as possible. At least they’ll have an idea how far apart the sides are heading into the summer.

Keep the peace

The relationship between Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau seems to be workable despite a so-called feud constantly being stoked by outsiders. Keep it that way. The last thing the Bulls need is front-office drama that might deter possible free agents as the franchise heads into a crucial summer.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com



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