- Marc Stein, ESPN Senior Writer
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The Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors have engaged in exploratory trade discussions on a deal that would swap the Bulls' Carlos Boozer for the Raptors' Andrea Bargnani, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
Other players with smaller contracts would have to be added to the deal to make the salary-cap math work should talks indeed progress to a more serious level. But sources told ESPN.com on Thursday that both teams have considered the move.
From Chicago's perspective, sources said, Bargnani's arrival could help address its glaring lack of 3-point shooting and brighten the overall look of its payroll, given that the Italian forward makes $5 million less than Boozer this season.
Despite his well-chronicled defensive deficiencies, Bargnani would figure to be an effective pick-and-roll partner for Derrick Rose once the point guard makes his expected return from knee surgery after the All-Star break.
The biggest impediment to such a trade, sources said, is believed to be whether Toronto can realistically afford having both Rudy Gay and Boozer on its payroll beyond this season.
The Raptors, who acquired Gay from Memphis last week, have been openly shopping Bargnani, who resumed the most disappointing season of his career Wednesday night after missing 26 games with an elbow injury.
Although Toronto's desire to upgrade its front line is an open secret -- as confirmed by its long-running interest in trading for the Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol before the forward's foot injury this week -- it's believed the luxury-tax implications of trading for Boozer ultimately could dissuade the Raptors from such a deal, even if Chicago proved willing.
Raptors president Bryan Colangelo told local reporters after the Gay trade that the team was prepared to stray into luxury-tax territory for the "right transaction." It remains to be seen whether a deal for Boozer qualifies.
It has long been assumed around the league that the Bulls might consider releasing Boozer through the NBA's one-time amnesty provision at season's end. But Boozer has tuned out such talk to be one of Chicago's most productive players this season, rallying from a so-so start to average 19.5 points and 10.1 rebounds per game in January.
Following the Bulls' 128-96 loss to the Nuggets on Thursday night, Boozer addressed handling the trade rumors.
"It's part of the game, man," he said. "Everybody been in that (situation). This is my 11th year. You can't worry about stuff that doesn't happen."
The NBA's annual trade deadline is Feb. 21, and the Raptors are known to be actively searching for a new home for Bargnani, who was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft but has gradually fallen out of favor with Raptors fans after Toronto's four consecutive seasons out of the playoffs.
The Raptors' list of potential trade partners is likely to be limited, however, because Bargnani -- on top of his on-court struggles this season -- has two years left on his contract after this one, valued at slightly more than $22 million total.
ESPNChicago.com's Nick Friedell contributed to this report.