CLEVELAND -- Gar Forman is frustrated.
The Chicago Bulls general manager knows that fans are unhappy about the team he helped construct. He knows that he has to reshape a roster that has underperformed all season. He knows that changes must be made to a group which dropped its fifth straight on Thursday in a 106-95 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers and enters Friday's game against the Toronto Raptors with a 27-26 record.
"I'm like the fans," Forman said during a phone conversation with ESPN.com. "I'm disappointed."
The Bulls still don't have an identity under first-year head coach Fred Hoiberg. That part has been concerning all season as the Bulls have let inconsistencies overwhelm their play through the first half of an up-and-down season. But as the trade deadline came and went Thursday and the organization's only move was dealing veteran point guard Kirk Hinrich, what became clearer than ever is that for the first time in years, the Bulls' front office doesn't have a specific direction and they aren't sure exactly what they should do moving forward.
Forman made the rounds after Thursday's deadline, speaking to several Chicago reporters about the present and future of the Bulls. But as the basketball lifer discussed the issues that have hampered his team all season and tried to put a positive spin on what has been an unhappy campaign to date, Forman's attempt at transparency only reinforced how cloudy the Bulls' future is.
"I think everybody here holds themselves accountable," Forman said. "We hold ourselves accountable for where we are today."
Forman hasn't completely given up on the current season, still holding out hope that the beleaguered Bulls can get healthy and make some noise in the Eastern Conference playoffs. For a group that came into the season thinking it had enough talent to contend for a championship, Chicago will be lucky at this point to make the playoffs.
"You got to love the challenge," Bulls veteran Mike Dunleavy said. "Our backs are against the wall, no question about it. ... Let's be honest, we're fighting to get in the playoffs right now. There was a lot of talk coming into the season about Finals and Eastern Conference championship and all this stuff. We're trying to get in the playoffs. And guys know that, are aware of it, and it's going to take a lot to do it."
Forman knows that the bulk of his work will come during the summer, but the disappointment he feels while watching this team continue to lose games is understandable. He does not want to use injuries as an excuse for poor play, but they have been hard to ignore as well. Bulls center Joakim Noah is out for the year after shoulder surgery. Dunleavy missed most of the year after back surgery. All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler is likely out a month after spraining his knee, and Nikola Mirotic is probably out even longer after suffering complications for what was supposed to be a routine appendectomy.
"We thought we had a roster that could compete at a high level," Forman said. But between the injuries and the struggle for players to carry out Hoiberg's game plan on a nightly basis, the anger within the Bulls' fan base is higher than it has been in years.
Compounding matters is that Hoiberg, who was sold to the fan base as an offensive guru and unifier, has struggled in his first season as head coach after signing a five-year, $25 million deal to replace Tom Thibodeau. Despite the struggles, Forman remains convinced that Hoiberg is the right man for the job.
"Under the circumstances, Fred has done well," Forman said, before adding that Hoiberg has "an extremely bright future here."
Forman was hopeful that the Bulls would be able to lock up veteran Pau Gasol after not dealing him before Thursday's deadline. But Noah's future in Chicago remains far less clearer. He has struggled to stay on the floor and produce over the past two seasons -- but Forman still believes Noah could also remain in Chicago for a while.
"We're optimistic that Joakim will want to remain a Bull," Forman said.
But whether Noah wants to remain in Chicago or the Bulls actually want to pay him the money to keep him remains to be seen.
At the center of the Bulls' problems: The roster that Forman and executive VP John Paxson built just isn't good enough to win at a high level. Injuries are a big reason why the team has faltered, but the issues run even deeper than that. Forman remains outwardly convinced that his group can get things back on track, but in order to do that, he must make the type of difficult decisions the Bulls haven't had to face in years.
"Though we're disappointed," Forman said, "we're certainly not in panic mode."
Bulls point guard Derrick Rose echoed similar sentiments after the Bulls' defeat on Thursday night.
"We just got to stay together through the good, the bad and the ugly," Rose said. "It's the ugly right now. We know the only place that we can go is up."
But as Forman understands more than almost anyone else within the organization these days, there are no easy answers to the Bulls' problems, only more questions.