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Columnist
A significant Bulls trade prior to deadline not likely
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 1/28/2008 12:03 AM

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The need for a significant move may be strong, but chances are the Bulls won't do anything before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.

Something could still happen. General manager John Paxson will try what he can to improve the underachieving, often uninterested Bulls. But here's a list of factors working against a trade being made in the next three weeks:

• Teams won't be eager to add the contracts of the Bulls' highest-paid players, Ben Wallace and Kirk Hinrich.

• The Bulls' younger players, such as Tyrus Thomas, Joakim Noah, Thabo Sefolosha and Aaron Gray, don't have much trade value right now since all are still developing.

• That leaves Ben Gordon and Luol Deng as the team's most attractive trade bait. Say what you want about their up-and-down seasons, they still are the Bulls' two best players, and the team would expect to get something significant in return.

• The Bulls are not in position to add payroll, with three big contracts already on the books (Wallace, Hinrich and Andres Nocioni) and two more in waiting (Gordon and Deng).

• Besides all that, Hinrich and Nocioni are base-year compensation until July 1, which makes them slightly more difficult to trade. Actually, trading one isn't a problem, but combining those players into the same deal is nearly impossible.

Some might argue that the Bulls should move Wallace at their earliest possible convenience. While that probably could be done, the Bulls almost certainly would have to take a more expensive contract back in return.

History has proven that it's usually better to let an unwanted contract expire than to trade it for another team's mistake.

It also has become trendy to suggest that Tyrus Thomas is on his way out of town. Really, though, the last thing Paxson is going to do is give up on a player with Thomas' potential just 1½ seasons after drafting him.

Thomas could be part of a package to bring in a front-line player, but there is no chance the Bulls would trade him just to get rid of him.

We probably can expect the Bulls to have a different look by the time training camp opens in October, but the summer is a more likely time to make a trade. Keep in mind that the Bulls are on their way to having a much higher draft choice in June than originally expected.

If there are any players on the team likely to be traded, it would be people such as Chris Duhon and Viktor Khryapa, who are about to become free agents and may not be back next season. There might be a contending team that could use an extra point guard for the stretch run.

Then again, as long as the Bulls' payroll is threatening to approach the luxury-tax threshold next season, trading expiring contracts may not be high on Paxson's priority list, either.

So here the Bulls sit, doing everything they can to fall out of playoff contention but unable to do so because of the pathetically weak state of the Eastern Conference.

Paxson would love to make changes before the trade deadline, but this isn't baseball where you can trade minor-league prospects for a starting outfielder. In the NBA, addition and subtraction often come at a price people aren't willing to pay.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com