In some ways, a visit from the Boston Celtics is a hopeless situation for the Bulls.
They've lost three games to the Celtics this season by an average of 20 points and are shooting just 34 percent against Boston's league-leading defense.
From a different perspective, the Celtics could offer some hope to the disappointing Bulls. A year ago, Boston finished 24-58, worse than the Bulls will wind up this season, and made a quantum leap to the NBA's best record.
The Celtics' turnaround is unusual.
In fact, they're about to eclipse San Antonio's all-time best turnaround of 36 games set in Tim Duncan's rookie season. But Boston is proof that bad teams can improve quickly.
"I think we're not very far away," guard Ben Gordon said Monday at the Berto Center. "We just need to get things cleaned up here and there and I think the team could be really good again."
It will be difficult for the Bulls to duplicate the same formula. The Celtics (58-15) already had a marquee player in Paul Pierce and managed to add all-stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in trades.
The Bulls don't have any big stars but still possess a nucleus of players who made the playoffs the past three seasons.
"With the team we had coming into the season, we were probably just one player away, just a really good, solid offensive post guy," Gordon said. "That's something we've been lacking for a while now."
The Bulls tried to land Garnett for more than two years, but their past success may have worked against them. After posting the league's second-worst record last season, Boston didn't hesitate to send a package of young players for Garnett. Minnesota, on the receiving end of that bag of hope, has sunk to 19-53 this season.
The Bulls figured they were capable of contending for the Eastern Conference title without Garnett or Pau Gasol and were reluctant to gut the team in a trade.
In hindsight, maybe they should have. But it's too late now, since Garnett and Gasol aren't likely to change teams again. Gasol was sent from Memphis to the Lakers in February.
But every summer in the NBA, the obvious trade targets are high-priced players on losing teams, such as Garnett and Allen last year. Here's a list of suggestions, and keep in mind that no one on the Bulls will be untouchable in a trade this summer, with the possible exception of Thabo Sefolosha:
Shawn Marion, Miami: Would the Heat prefer to rebuild around Marion and Dwyane Wade, or move Marion and hope to add Michael Beasley in the draft? Miami could probably go either way.
Marion will make $17 million next season if he doesn't opt out of his contract. But he was a consistent performer in Phoenix and could be the type of player to give the Bulls a boost. By the way, the Heat is not trading Wade.
Jermaine O'Neal, Indiana: O'Neal is a talented big man but a huge risk, considering he's played in just 33 games this season and missed at least 30 games in three of the last four years. He's also owed $21 million and $23 million the next two seasons.
O'Neal could be less of a risk, though, if Indiana was willing to take Larry Hughes and help the Bulls clear their logjam at guard. The Pacers could use a true shooting guard, but what else would they want from the Bulls?
Ron Artest, Sacramento: Speaking of risks, Artest has been as unreliable as he is talented. The Bulls know his faults, since he played here for 2½ seasons.
During the futile Kobe Bryant talks, the Kings were interested in acquiring Gordon in a three-way deal and would figure to be open to an Artest-for-Gordon swap. But besides the uneven behavior, Artest wouldn't fit well in the same lineup with Luol Deng.
Mike Miller, Memphis: The Bulls could use another 3-point shooter, and Miller would be a nice addition if they want to continue to play at a faster pace. But the Bulls are deep at the wing positions, and if the Grizzlies didn't want to take what the Bulls were offering for Gasol, what would they want for Miller?
Elton Brand, Clippers: The Bulls' No. 1 pick in 1999 would be a dream acquisition, even though he's been out all season with a torn Achilles. He can opt out of the final year of his contract this summer, so there could be incentive for the Clippers to get something in return. But since they've been so bad without him this season, expect the Clips to spend the money to re-sign Brand.
Corey Maggette, Clippers: Rookie Al Thornton probably makes Maggette expendable. The Chicago native is one of the league's best at getting to the foul line, but he's been to the playoffs just once in nine seasons.
Michael Redd, Milwaukee: No team needs a roster shakeup more than the Bucks, who will no doubt consider moving anyone beyond center Andrew Bogut. Redd can score with the best of them, but maybe he needs to be more of a second option to find team success. It worked for Ray Allen in Boston.