The Bulls Select No. 7 in this year’s NBA Draft.
So how do you feel about Cam Reddish? Or maybe Coby White, Jarrett Culver or DeAndre Hunter? Brandon Clarke?
We feel at the two, three, four and five spot we are really solid,” Bulls Executive Vice-President of Basketball Operations was saying Tuesday night following the NBA draft lottery. “I’m confident we’ll find a player in this draft that fits us and suits us. Only one team can get that young man tonight and that’s New Orleans. Good for them; my mind immediately went to the fact three of the top four (draft picks) are going out West. And New York didn’t get No. 1. So that’s something in our favor.”
A bad night for New York always is good for the nation.
Still, it wasn’t a very good night for the Second City as it finished seventh again, the Bulls falling from a projected No. 4 spot in the NBA draft lottery to No. 7.
It means the Bulls will select No. 7—assuming they don’t make a trade—in the June 20 NBA draft. It will be the third consecutive year the Bulls will draft No. 7. They selected Lauri Markkanen in 2017 with the draft pick from Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler trade. The Bulls last year fell from their projected No. 6 place to No. 7 in the draft. They selected Wendell Carter Jr.
The big prize and excitement in this year’s lottery drawing conducted in the South Michigan Avenue Hilton Chicago was the right to select Duke forward Zion Williamson. An exciting consolation prize was the possibility of selecting Murray State point guard Ja Morant.
Now that we know where we’re at we’ll get to work trying to find the best use of it. But we are in this business to try to build a team and we’ll continue to go that route.
The Bulls had a 12.5 percent chance of getting the No. 1 draft pick in the new NBA lottery system because the Bulls had the fourth poorest record in the NBA at 22-60. The teams with the three poorest records, New York, Cleveland and Phoenix, had identical odds of 14 percent for the top pick. Previously, the team with the poorest record had a 25 percent chance of winning the No. 1 draft pick. But it produced a surfeit of intentional losing, leading the NBA to even the odds starting this year.
The result Tuesday was none of the three poorest record teams got the No. 1 or No. 2 selection. In fact, each of the top six teams dropped in the lottery from their position by record. The lottery winner to get the No. 1 pick and certainly Williamson was New Orleans, which was placed seventh in poorest record and had about eight percent odds to move to No. 1.
Memphis moved up to No. 2 and likely will select Morant in its current rebuilding. That will make veteran point Mike Conley a likely trade option. Memphis had about an eight percent chance to advance to No. 2. The Knicks fell from the poorest record to third and the Lakers moved up from 11th to fourth with about three percent odds.
“Look at what happened tonight,” said Paxson. “From a league perspective they have to be thrilled at how it played out from the excitement of it. They did it for a lot of different reasons. They don’t want teams to throw in the towel 20 games into a season. Tonight showed what they’ve envisioned probably held true. I had a funny feeling something odd was going to happen and it did.
“You always come into a situation like this hoping,” Paxson acknowledged. “We got lucky years ago (in 2008 with 1.7 percent odds getting the No. 1 pick and Derrick Rose). There’s luck involved and we weren’t lucky. But we feel we have two very good pieces (from) the last two drafts at No. 7 in Lauri and Wendell and we’re going to try to keep building this thing. I’m sure New York is disappointed. They had the worst record in the league and were hoping to get one of the top picks. There’s a lot of disappointment except for a couple of teams.
“But I’m very confident,” Paxson insisted. “I say this all the time. We are confident we will get a player we can add. Obviously in this draft there is a generational type of guy and they (New Orleans) are better off for it. But this is about building a team and I’m always confident we are going to find value where we draft. We’ve talked about keeping an open mind. There are other things you can do with picks to get better; you can trade them. Now that we know where we’re at we’ll get to work trying to find the best use of it. But we are in this business to try to build a team and we’ll continue to go that route. We’re going to go out and try to spend some money in free agency where we add some vets who can help our team. You get over the disappointment quickly because we have a lot of work to do.”
Not that the Bulls were rooting for this outcome, but it does open numerous possibilities for trades and free agent signings to upgrade the roster.
The Bulls have about $20 million available to spend on free agents this summer and the possibility of trading the lottery pick, which is something the franchise rarely has done. But with the core Paxson talked about in naming Markkanen, Carter, Zach LaVine and Otto Porter Jr., the most apparent need seems to be point guard.
Immediately because of the possibility of selecting Morant, speculation began about Conley, who has a giant contract making at least $30 million in each of the next two seasons. Memphis has been looking to trade him after trading Marc Gasol last season. Having some $20 million in salary cap room, the Bulls could in theory make that kind of trade utilizing salary cap space and adding a player or players to equalize the salary.
Plus, there are numerous free agent point guards. The Bulls don’t have the money for top free agents like Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker. Some are restricted, which means their team can match an offer, like with Malcolm Brogdon and Terry Rozier. Some of the top unrestricted free agent point guards are Patrick Beverley, Ricky Rubio, Darren Collison, Derrick Rose and Elfrid Payton.
Of course, the Bulls still have point guard Kris Dunn from the Butler trade. He committed at the end of the season to improving his shooting coming into the 2019-20 season.
The top two draft picks are considered to be Williamson and Morant. There’s speculation New Orleans could now perhaps persuade Anthony Davis to stay after he had asked for a trade. Though that is not considered likely as Davis wants to play with veterans. The Knicks had been rumored willing to trade the No. 1 pick for Davis to join with potential free agent signings Irving and Kevin Durant. Even with No. 3, the Knicks could still make a Davis trade that might work for the Pelicans by obtaining Knicks youngsters like Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr., Mitchell Robinson and their No. 1 pick. Many regard Duke’s R.J. Barrett as a likely No. 3 pick.
The Lakers will also try for Davis with the No. 4 pick, as they did midseason, in a package with most of their young players whom they offered midseason. Their young players like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma are more highly rated and then the Lakers could add a free agent like former Bull Jimmy Butler for a Big Three feature.
Dallas ended up losing its No. 1 pick from last year’s trade to move up for Luka Doncic. Dallas’ pick turned out to be No. 10 for Atlanta, which fell to No. 8 with its pick and will have two top 10 picks for a developing roster. Boston also lost out as its pick from Sacramento remained at No. 14.
So it remains more unclear than ever the likelihood of selections after the top two because of so many trade possibilities.
The Bulls supposedly have had interest in a point guard. With Morant expected to be selected at No. 2, that means the highest rated point guards in the draft figure to be Darius Garland from Vanderbilt and Coby White from North Carolina. At least one and possibly both figure to be available when the Bulls select at No. 7, assuming they don’t make a trade.
“There’s more than seven (players) there we like,” Paxson said. “Now we go through the process of bringing guys in for workouts and getting to know them better and that’s what this is about and that is the fun part for us and we’ll get at that right away, seeing them and knowing them and really dissecting them. We’ll get to work now, study them deeply and go from there.”
Point guard often has been mentioned as a possible need for the Bulls. But Paxson also talked frequently about the need for more shooting.
Culver from Texas Tech and Hunter from Virginia fall into the NBA category of the so called 3-D players known for shooting and defense, though Culver plays more off the dribble than Hunter. They are considered top 10 picks. Duke’s Reddish was a top three prospect coming into the season, but was overshadowed by Williamson and Barrett. Reddish is considered more of a risk as a potentially elite talent who is inconsistent. Would the Bulls take a chance on high ceiling/low motor?
Now we go through the process of bringing guys in for workouts and getting to know them better and that’s what this is about and that is the fun part for us.
There’s a question about whether Robin Lopez would return, and the size of Carter at center. Which might make Texas’ athletic seven footer Jaxson Hayes intriguing. Though he is considered more of a project for now. And with the trade for Porter, which Paxson described as an early free agency move for the Bulls, and talk about veterans being added in the summer it sounded more like the Bulls want to be done with projects and prospects not named Zion or Ja.
Though the Bulls are relatively well fortified inside with Markkanen and Carter, Gonzaga’s Clarke has drawn increasing interest among scouts for his explosive and intelligent play and might be an exciting under-the-radar possibility for a team not exactly overloaded with talent yet.
Bol Bol anyone? And don’t forget about No. 38.
“We’re disappointed too,” Paxson admitted. “But like I said, there’s luck involved and we didn’t have the luck tonight.”