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Bulls stick together amid NBA trade rumors

Bulls guard Derrick Rose looks pass as he flies through lane while Heguard Mario Chalmers defends first half game five

Bulls guard Derrick Rose looks to pass as he flies through the lane while Heat guard Mario Chalmers defends in the first half in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Chicago Bulls hosting the Miami Heat Thursday May 26, 2011 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: April 15, 2012 8:15AM

Players weren’t the only ones devastated by the loss to the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals last season.

“It takes awhile to get over the sting, especially when the season ends,’’ general manager Gar Forman said. “You don’t go back and reflect on all the positive things that happened. You don’t do that until you’re down the road a little bit. We felt we had made progress and were headed in the right direction, but there’s no question it stung.”

Forman didn’t want to make emotional decisions then and doesn’t want to now even with the Heat visiting the United Center on Wednesday and Thursday’s trade deadline fast approaching.

Despite reports of a possible deal for Lakers power forward Pau Gasol, the Bulls aren’t expected to make a major move before the deadline, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

Forman and vice president John Paxson had a plan in place and what they witnessed during the Bulls’ postseason run last year reinforced that they were on the right track. Instead of reassembling the roster in an effort to beat the Heat, they remain adamant about keeping their team together.

When their evaluation of the 2010-11 season was complete, they opted for no major changes other than an upgrade at shooting guard, signing Rip Hamilton as a free agent before the season.

“We really like the nucleus of the guys we had,” Forman said. “We liked the chemistry on and off the court, we like how the pieces fit together and we have a pretty young core of guys that we wanted to give a chance to grow over a number of years. That was the biggest goal. We wanted to keep the nucleus together, then if we could add to it and improve our team, we would. We felt adding Rip would add an element to our team we didn’t have a year ago.”

The nationally televised game against the Heat is the latest opportunity for the Bulls to measure themselves up against their nemesis, although we learned last season that success during the regular season doesn’t necessarily carry over into the playoffs. The Bulls were 3-0 against the Heat before the postseason began, remember.

Injuries complicate the matter. The Bulls were without Luol Deng when they fell to the Heat 97-93 on Jan. 29 in Miami. Hamilton played despite a leg injury but was far from 100 percent.

At least one NBA general manager, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the Bulls are the superior team when fully healthy. That might be the minority view, but he said grittier teams win in the playoffs, and he’s convinced the Bulls are mentally and physically tougher than Miami.

“That’s a good team,” he said of the Bulls. “I’m picking them to win the East. Miami is too Hollywood for me.”

The question for Forman leading up to the trade deadline isn’t so much whom he could acquire but whom he would have to give up. When everybody is healthy, which rarely has been the case this season, everything meshes.

The chemistry players have developed is another key component. It’s rare to have a roster as selfless and committed to winning as this one.

That doesn’t mean the Bulls won’t make changes before the trade deadline or during the offseason. Evaluations are ongoing, but the Bulls are the tortoise in this race. No move will be made in haste.

“We tried to get character guys who are in it for the right reason and are about working and winning,” Forman said. “Obviously, that’s a big part of it. Again, we’ve got a young nucleus of guys who have another year under [coach] Tom [Thibodeau], which is a real plus. They’re more comfortable with the system and how we want to play on both ends of the floor. With that said, we’re always looking for ways to improve our team.”

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