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Bulls in tricky spot with ailing Rip Hamilton, Luol Deng

Bulls All-Star forward Luol Deng said torn ligament his left wrist has become extremely painful. | TamarBell~Sun Times Media

Bulls All-Star forward Luol Deng said the torn ligament in his left wrist has become extremely painful. | Tamara Bell~Sun Times Media

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The facts: 7, Ch. 9, 1000-AM.

Updated: April 11, 2012 8:08AM

The Bulls have passed the midway point of the season and quickly might be approaching the tipping point.

Rip Hamilton acknowledged that doctors have predicted it will take a month for him to return from a sprained shoulder, which doesn’t allow for much wiggle room with the regular season ending April 26.

Luol Deng told reporters after the loss Thursday against the Magic that the torn ligament in his left wrist has become extremely painful, so he might be forced to miss games.

The Bulls have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy called them the “best team in the league” after Thursday’s game. Bobcats coach Paul Silas said the Bulls have the best roster in the NBA.

“It’s a great team that will do all the little things,” Van Gundy said. “They will screen; they will move the ball. They’re very unselfish. To me, they play the game consistently better than everybody in the league.”

There’s still plenty of time for Deng to get his wrist right before the postseason begins. Even if it takes Hamilton a month to fully recover, he’d still have 10 regular-season games to play himself into shape and find chemistry with his teammates before a first-round playoff series begins, which seems about right.

While that scenario for Deng and Hamilton seems entirely plausible, so does the possibility that Deng is never his old self and Hamilton faces a setback or suffers another injury while trying to return from his sprained shoulder.

If that’s the case, the season would seem destined to end with an exhausted Derrick Rose trying to do too much to compensate for injuries to two players who are supposed to share the scoring load.

The trade deadline offers little relief because vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman are determined to keep this core group together, and with good reason. There will be many rumors swirling about possible trades by the Bulls. Some of these deals sound enticing until you find out what the Bulls would have to give up.

This team has been very carefully pieced together. The pieces fit when the roster is healthy. Even if Forman made a deal to upgrade a position, there’s no guarantee the chemistry would be the same.

Forman has to balance the desire to do whatever it takes to win this season with a longer view. He doesn’t want to make a rash trade to help win now if it prevents the Bulls from winning multiple titles in future years.

Never say never. A trade could pop up at any time. But there’s no urgency to make a deal.

Meanwhile, the Bulls will play 15 of their next 24 at the United Center, which is good news. But the teams coming to town are formidable, especially with Hamilton out and Deng ailing. The Bulls host the Jazz on Saturday night before the Knicks, Heat, Blazers and 76ers visit next week. Then it’s back to Orlando for a rematch with the Magic.

With Hamilton and Deng less than 100 percent, hanging on to the best record in the East could be a challenge.

These Bulls still don’t know how good they are. That’s the bottom line. The Bulls only have played 10 games with their starting five of Rose, Hamilton, Deng, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah on the floor.

In many ways, this remains a mystery team until the full impact of the Hamilton acquisition can be gauged.

“We just have to wait and see,” Rose said. “We know we can be pretty good, but we really can’t talk about it until he gets better.”

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