Tanking talk not being discussed by Bulls front office down the stretchJoe Cowleyon May 2, 2021 at 1:20 am

The Bulls might be better served to rest some key players over the final eight games and hope for lottery luck, rather than chase a fading play-in dream. But coach Billy Donovan said there has been no such talk from executive VP Arturas Karnisovas.

It sure felt like a night to all of a sudden decide to go the tanky route.

Bulls head coach Billy Donovan, however, insisted that wasn’t the case.

Asked if there was any discussions with executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas about sitting guys with just eight games left in the regular season, Donovan said, “No, I haven’t had any conversations like that. Our focus [was on Atlanta Saturday] and then it will be coming back on Philly [Monday], but we have not had any discussions along those lines at all.’’

Considering how transparent Donovan has been with the media this season, there’s no reason to doubt him, but there’s also the reality of dealing with the league and how much they frown upon teams even hinting about tanking.

Yet, there the Bulls were against the Hawks, still without All-Star Zach LaVine and reserve guard Troy Brown Jr., and then minutes before tip-off announcing that All-Star center Nikola Vucevic was a late scratch after dealing with tightness in his right adductor.

So what would be the incentive to be overly-cautious with players at the expense of games at this point for the Bulls? After all, they are still in the running for a play-in spot, and could be until the final few games of the season.

It comes down to math.

While the Bulls are not eliminated, they are still in a very tough situation in the chase down of the Wizards. Not only does Washington have an easier schedule, but has been playing much more consistent basketball the last few weeks.

All the Bulls have on their side is the tie-breaker over the Wizards, and the hope that LaVine could be returning from the health and safety protocol at some point next week.

However, if the Bulls nose dive down the stretch here, miss the play-in and fall deeper into the lottery, there’s a chance that they could still salvage something from the 2021 draft with lottery luck. The Vucevic trade cost them a first round pick, but it is protected one through four.

As of Saturday, the Bulls were sitting in the No. 7 spot, having just a 6% chance to land No. 1, but a 26.3% chance to land in the top four and retain the pick.

The best-case scenario at this point would be they added Vucevic to go along with LaVine, can continue the development of 2020 first-round pick Patrick Williams, and then hit a top four spot in the 2021 lottery and land a Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs to solve the point guard issues.

Obviously, a lot would have to break their way and there’s a definite gamble going that route, but it’s much better than a scenario in which they miss the postseason and lose the draft pick to the Magic, walking out of the season with little to show for it.

Sound advice

Vucevic is admittedly not the most vocal leader, but he will speak up when he feels it’s time to. With so much still at stake for the Bulls and an uphill climb in front of them, the veteran big man did talk about the best philosophy to take down the stretch now.

“We can sit here and cry about it and be disappointed, but it won’t do us any good,’’ Vucevic said. “We just have to move on, take the wins and losses as they come and continue to move forward. You have to have a short memory.’’

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