Suns face Bulls with both teams missing familiar faces
CHICAGO — The Chicago Bulls enter the final 25 games of the regular season in search of consistency, especially when it comes to playing against the NBA’s also-rans.
The Bulls are coming out of the All-Star break one game under .500 despite boasting a 6-1 record against the Eastern Conference’s top three teams. But if the Bulls hope to hold on to a playoff spot after entering Friday’s game against the Phoenix Suns as the East’s No. 7 seed, they’ll have to find a way to play well against losing teams — like the Suns.
Chicago will enter the stretch run without two familiar faces. The Bulls dealt starting forward Taj Gibson and reserve guard Doug McDermott to the Oklahoma City Thunder just before Thursday’s trade deadline. In return, the Bulls received point guard Cameron Payne, center Joffrey Lauvergne and swingman Anthony Morrow. The Bulls also sent a 2018 second-round pick to the Thunder to round out the deal.
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McDermott was the Bulls’ best 3-point shooter and had connected on 37 percent of his attempts this season. Gibson was a respected member of the Bulls locker room who was averaging 11.6 points per game.
Gibson told reporters that receiving the news he had been traded was emotional — both for himself and for Bulls officials.
“I don’t really see (Bulls executive vice president John Paxson) get choked up and teary-eyed,” Gibson said Thursday. “But he gave me a long hug.”
McDermott and Gibson were two of Chicago’s four double-digit scorers along with Jimmy Butler and Dwayne Wade, who will return Friday night after missing three straight games with a wrist injury. Butler, Chicago’s leading scorer, drew a lot of attention from teams before Thursday’s deadline, but remained in place as the Bulls’ cornerstone player.
Before the trade deadline, coach Fred Hoiberg told his players to only worry about what they could control. Now with the deadline past, the Bulls will need to do the same if they hope to remain in the playoff picture. After the Bulls went into the All-Star break with wins over the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, Hoiberg hopes his team can build on that effort.
“(You) just worry about getting your guys ready to play the stretch run and again hopefully play well,” said Hoiberg, whose team lost to the Suns, 115-97, on Feb. 10.
Meanwhile, the Suns were also active on Thursday, when they sent forward P.J. Tucker to Toronto for forward Jared Sullinger and second-round draft picks in 2017 and 2018. Tucker was a top defender for Phoenix coming off the bench and was able to guard both on the perimeter in the post.
Sullinger has been injured most of the season, dealing with a foot injury that has only allowed him to appear in 11 games. Now, the Suns — who have lost seven out of their last 10 games — will move on while playing out the string of the regular season.
Despite the Suns’ struggles this season, Tucker said he was sad to be leaving.
“I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a tough day for me,” Tucker said Thursday, according to the Arizona Republic. “I dropped some tears. Phoenix changed my life. All the people here, all the fans, I couldn’t ask for a better place or organization. It’s been my family for the last five or six years. I’m so grateful about getting the opportunity and what they’ve done for me.”