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Kurt Thomas leaves Bulls for Trail Blazers

Kurt Thomas played key role last seaswhen Joakim Noah was sidelined with injuries. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Kurt Thomas played a key role last season when Joakim Noah was sidelined with injuries. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 13, 2012 8:19AM

Bulls players still don’t know if Rip Hamilton is joining the team, although all signs point in that direction.

They did learn Sunday that Kurt Thomas will not return. The veteran center, who started 37 games last season, signed with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Bulls general manager Gar Forman said he wanted Thomas back and offered him a contract, but Thomas chose to leave.

“He was a big part of what we did a year ago,” Forman said. “But Kurt Thomas had to evaluate the situation from his perspective, and obviously he must have felt that Portland presented a better opportunity for him.”

Thomas averaged 4.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in 22.7 minutes last season and played a key role when Joakim Noah was sidelined with injuries. The 16-year veteran also served as a mentor for Noah and Omer Asik.

“You can’t say enough about him,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The guy has been around forever. He’s a great pro. He’s a great leader. He stays ready whenever he’s called upon. He can sit there for two months, not play and you call upon him and he’s ready to go. I thought he was great in our locker room. But he’ll be a big plus for that team.”

Expect Forman to add a power forward or center to compensate.

“We’ll have to have some depth, even if it’s just from a practice standpoint,” he said. “It’s hard to go through a season with just four bigs. That’s still something we’re taking a look at, whether we add another four or a five. Again, if we don’t find the right guy, we’ll be patient and try to keep some flexibility with that position. If we don’t address it right away, we may address it down the road.”

Confidence in Boozer

Injuries played a role in Carlos Boozer’s disappointing performance last season. Forman believes the forward will have more success this season.

“He came into camp 20-plus pounds lighter,” Forman said. “He looks like he’s in terrific shape. We’re only two days in, but he’s looked very good. It’s always a difficult adjustment when you come via free agency from one team to another team. Historically, if you look at major free agents that have changed teams, they have shown improvement from year one to year two, where there’s more of a familiarity with the system, the city and the organization. In Carlos’ case, he changed conferences.

“He will be more comfortable with what we’re doing, and I would expect Carlos to have a really good year.”

Rose not worried

Forman said he plans to sign Derrick Rose to a contract extension that will keep him with the Bulls for the foreseeable future. He said he is talking with Rose’s representatives, and they hope to strike a deal in “a short amount of time.”

“If it was up to me, I would sign quick, but I’m not worried about that right now,” Rose said. “When the time comes, I know I’ll sign.”

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