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Updated: January 10, 2012 8:28AM
Bulls general manager Gar Forman wore a scowl. Executive vice president John Paxson had his hands in his black trench coat, his eyes on the ground. They appeared to be in deep thought as they walked into the Berto Center earlier this week as if the fate of the world, or at least of the Bulls, was on their shoulders.
Acquiring the final piece to any championship puzzle is often the most difficult of all. This is no time to force a bold stroke, however.
The Bulls need a shooting guard. Several candidates, however flawed, willing to play for a $5 million mid-level exemption are available, but there will be other opportunities to make changes.
The league soon will announce a trade deadline. As tempting as it might be to one-up the Heat’s signing of forward Shane Battier with a high-profile acquisition of their own, it might be wiser to postpone any decision until after the impact of a frenetic schedule and the development of key young players can be evaluated.
“When you look at teams breaking through that last wall before they get to a championship, a lot of it is mental, a lot of it is learning how to play,” guard Kyle Korver said Thursday. “Last year, we learned a lot about ourselves. It was such a frustrating finish to the season. Every single person who played can look back and say, ‘Man, if I would’ve done this.’ It drives you crazy.
“It was a long offseason. Everybody, as they come back, is in great shape, ready to go, excited to play. It’s management’s job to always make improvements and see what it can do, but we were right there. In three of four losses, we felt like if we would’ve played a little smarter, hit a couple more shots, [gotten] a couple more stops, we would’ve won.”
Training camp opens Friday, but it will take time for coach Tom Thibodeau to know how much more he can expect from center Omer Asik and forward Taj Gibson. Starting center Joakim Noah spent the offseason working on becoming a better inside scorer. Remember, forward Carlos Boozer and Noah only played together 29 times last season, and the Bulls were 24-5 in those games. Gaining experience together should only help them, especially defensively. If Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer and Korver made a few more shots in the playoffs, the need for a shooting guard would seem less acute.
History reminds us that the Bulls added only role players Cliff Levingston and Dennis Hopson before conquering the Pistons en route to their first title in 1991.
“With the group we had, we were in every game and had chances to win those games,” Boozer said of last season’s playoff loss to the Heat. “I believe we can beat them with [this] group. I do. But do I think management is going to do everything it can do to make us a better team? Yeah. [Management has] done a great job so far.”
Nobody is suggesting the Bulls stand pat. But even in losing to the Heat last season, it was evident this was a smartly constructed team built for the long haul, which is why patience might be the key, even during the expected free-agent frenzy.