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DEERFIELD, Ill. - Just in case anyone was wondering, Bulls general manager John Paxson would select Greg Oden or Kevin Durant with the No. 9 pick in Thursday's draft if either was available.

But wishful thinking aside, it's anybody's guess what Chicago will do. About the only certainty is that Oden and Durant will be taken with the top two picks.

The Bulls' primary need - a big man who can score - is no secret, but it's also no given they'll address it with the ninth pick. And while they would like to get someone who can help immediately, it's not a priority.

"If there's not a guy there that's going to be able to give you 25 minutes a game next year, but there are guys on the board that you like, I'm pretty confident that looking at our history the last four years … he's going to get better here," Paxson said.

Paxson's confidence stems from what he's seen on the court, where Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich have led the franchise's renaissance.

The Bulls took their biggest step this past season, winning 49 games in the regular season and advancing in the playoffs for the first time since 1998. After back-to-back first-round exits, they swept defending champion Miami and refused to go quietly against Detroit in the Eastern Conference semifinals, forcing a Game 6 after falling behind 3-0.

Deng looked like a budding star while setting career-highs in just about every major category, including scoring average (18.8 points), rebounds (7.1) and shooting (51.7 percent). Gordon, whose name frequently surfaces in trade rumors, averaged a career-high 21.4 points.

But the Bulls have one big hole in the middle - the same one they hoped to fill last summer.

A year ago, they drafted 6-foot-11 forward LaMarcus Aldridge with the second pick and immediately traded him to Portland for the rights to Tyrus Thomas. Aldridge made the all-rookie team; the 6-9 Thomas showed some potential but remains a work in progress.

Three big men who could be available with this year's ninth pick are Washington's Spencer Hawes, Yi Jianlian of China and Florida's Joakim Noah.

Noah is considered the most likely of the three to contribute immediately. Although his shot is awkward, he helped Florida win back-to-back championships and was MVP of the 2006 Final Four.

"I do think it's important," Paxson said. "You don't win by chance. … There's something to be said for winning. You have to accept a role, you have to play to that role. Ultimately, those kids know what winning's all about."

Hawes, who was in for a follow-up interview this week, is skilled but played just one season in college.

Yi is somewhat of a mystery.

The NBA and Chinese Basketball Association list his birthday as Oct. 27, 1987, making him 19. But some believe he's about three years older. There also are questions about his strength and defense - and he didn't let teams run him through workouts. Instead, his handlers invited them to sessions designed to show his strengths.

"There are some skilled big men in the draft," Paxson said. "Are they really ready to come in and contribute? That's the big question. We answer that by saying we provide them with the right structure for them to be successful."

Not that the Bulls are locked into drafting a post player.

Paxson made it clear he's not against the idea of simply stockpiling another asset and acquiring a big man in a trade or free agency.

"I know we have a need for a big," said Paxson, who also has the 49th and 51st picks. "If there's a player out there we like better, I don't know why we would pass on that guy."


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