DEERFIELD — Tyrus Thomas knew a trade was in the works, so he wasn’t shocked when the Portland Trail Blazers dealt his rights to the Chicago Bulls during the NBA draft Wednesday night.
Nothing against Portland. But Thomas was happy to go to a playoff team.
“I like the atmosphere,” the former LSU star said. “And I like the coaching staff. The coaches, they push you … to get the best out of you.”
The Bulls selected forward LaMarcus Aldridge of Texas with the second pick and traded him and a 2007 second-rounder to the Portland Trail Blazers for the rights to No. 4 pick Thomas and forward Viktor Khryapa.
The Bulls then took forward Rodney Carney of Memphis with the 16th pick and promptly dealt him to Philadelphia for the rights to No. 13 pick Thabo Sefolosha, a 2007 second-round selection and cash.
“I just like the way the coaches push you,” Thomas said. “That’s what I like.”
Thomas played a key role in leading LSU to its first Final Four in 20 years. As a redshirt freshman, he averaged 12.3 points and 9.2 rebounds, second in the SEC behind teammate Glen Davis, and led the league with 3.1 blocks per game after injuring his neck before the 2004-05 season.
Although he’s listed at 6-foot-9, general manager John Paxson isn’t sure if Thomas will be a power forward or small forward in the NBA. There are questions about his range, but LSU kept him on the post. Thomas said he’s a small forward, and Paxson reiterated he is the best athlete in the draft.
“He has an uncanny ability to block shots,” Paxson said. “His reactions and instincts defensively are excellent. He’s still learning the game. He’s got a way to go in that regard. But we’re very confident that he’s going to come in and soak up what we have to offer him.”
Thomas outplayed Aldridge in LSU’s 70-60 victory over Texas in the NCAA tournament, finishing with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Aldridge shot 2-for-14 with four points.
The 6-foot-11 Aldridge averaged 15.0 points and 9.2 rebounds as a sophomore for a Longhorns team that won a school-record 30 games, the Big 12 regular-season title and reached the NCAA regional finals.
The Bulls were having a tough time deciding between Thomas and Aldridge, but the Blazers made it easier when they “came into the picture” on Wednesday and dangled Khryapa.
A first-round pick in 2004, Khryapa can defend both forward positions and certain shooting guards, and his scrap-piness should fit in with the Bulls.
Sefolosha, a 6-5 guard from Switzerland, averaged 12.0 points and 6.4 rebounds for Italian Serie A club Angelico Biella last season, while Carney ranked second in Conference USA in scoring at 17.2 points per game.
“He’s very long,” coach Scott Skiles said. “He’s versatile. He’s got big hands. … He’s a guy who can play behind Kirk (Hinrich) and Ben (Gordon) and give us size. He can also do some ball-handling.”
It was no secret that Chicago was looking for help in the frontcourt and height in the backcourt. They added length and versatility but remain in the market for a big man.
Paxson dismissed rumors of a deal with Minnesota involving Kevin Garnett, saying the teams have “never had that conversation.”
Paxson did say the Bulls will pursue frontline help on the free-agent market.
“We’re going to get after it,” he said. “We think we’re an attractive place to play. We’ve got history. We’ve got a ter-rific young team.
The Bulls were the only playoff team with a lottery pick, which they acquired in the trade that sent Eddy Curry and Antonio Davis to New York last fall. Chicago also has the right to flip-flop first-rounders next year if it finishes with a better record than the Knicks.
A season that started on a tumultuous note, with the Bulls insisting Curry take a DNA test to rule out a potentially fatal heart condition, ended with a more optimistic tune.
Chicago won 12 of its final 14 games to finish 41-41 and reach the playoffs for the second straight year, pushing Mi-ami before losing in six games in the first round. They have a core of talented, young perimeter players that includes leading scorer Gordon, Hinrich, Chris Duhon, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni. But the lack of an inside scoring pres-ence was glaring.
Center Tyson Chandler averaged 9.0 rebounds but just 5.3 points during the regular season and was a non-factor in the playoffs at 1.8 points and 4.5 rebounds.
Since becoming general manager in April 2003, general manager John Paxson has led the Bulls from the bottom of the NBA to the postseason. He drafted Hinrich with the seventh pick in 2003, and in 2004, he took Gordon at No. 3, Duhon in the second round and acquired the rights to Deng from Phoenix. The Bulls did not have a pick last year.
“We know we need to add size,” Paxson said. “But we felt equally that we had to address length and athleticism for our basketball team. We also felt we needed a bigger guard who could take some of the pressure off Kirk and Ben.”