In acquiring All-Star center Nikola Vucevic at the March trade deadline, the Bulls also played a serious game of chicken with a talented 2021 draft class. Now they have just a 20.3% chance to land in the top four or the pick goes to the Magic. Come Tuesday night they find out their fate.
Arturas Karnisovas wasn’t going to hide from the obvious.
In less than a year on the job, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations has already shown a level of accountability that the old regime failed to display time and time again.
That’s why he had no reservations about admitting that in the vacuum of just last season’s goals, yes, the trade with Orlando for All-Star big man Nikola Vucevic did fail.
Priority No. 1 of that deal was to end a postseason drought that is now on Year 4 and counting. It didn’t.
“The disappointment is short term, which is we assume that if you add another All-Star to your roster, usually you get better and improve your record,’’ Karnisovas said last month. “It’s a results-driven business. Unfortunately that didn’t happen.’’
There are phases in assessing that deal that was completed at the March deadline, however, and the next one is a doozy.
In acquiring Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu, the Bulls sent out Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and most importantly two first-round picks – in the 2021 draft and 2023.
The details on the ’21 pick are that it’s protected if the Bulls are smiled upon by lady luck in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery and land in the top four. Something they had a 31.9% chance to do with just 10 days left in the regular season, until that lowered to 20.3% when they went out and won five meaningless games to close the year.
The change in the organizational landscape if they can retain the ’21 pick will be monumental.
Not only would that deal have landed them an All-Star to go along with Zach LaVine, but the Bulls would come out of the other side of it with the likes of a Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs in the mix. Both point guards with potential generational-type skillsets.
That means a one-two punch of LaVine and Vucevic to immediately build around, but also a young wave of potential dominance if Patrick Williams and Cunningham/Suggs lives up to the high ceilings that have been built around them.
And while the draft lottery hasn’t been that kind to the Bulls in quite some time, it has offered up organizational-changers in the past.
The odds of hitting No. 1 in 2008 was just 1.7%, but it happened. And then the drafting of Derrick Rose happened.
Since the 2017 rebuild, however, it’s been an organization rolling No. 7 picks, until hitting on No. 4 last summer and selecting Williams.
It would be nice for another hit-by-lightening moment, especially with the talent at the top of this ’21 draft.
Not only do the Bulls – who currently sit in the No. 8 slot – have that 20.3% chance to land in the top four, but have a 4.5% chance to land the No. 1 pick.
In most mock drafts in which teams stay where they are currently slotted, Houston would be No. 1 and would likely target Cunningham, Detroit would get No. 2 and covet center Evan Mobley, Orlando would have their own pick at No. 3 and land Jalen Green, while Oklahoma City would grab Suggs with the fourth pick.
Since the NBA reworked the lottery process two years ago to dissuade teams from intentionally tanking, however, little has gone as expected.
In 2019, New Orleans jumped from the No. 7 slot to No. 1 and hit on Zion Williamson, while last season both the Bulls and Charlotte jumped up into the top four.
But there’s the other side to all of this. An almost 80% reality that there is no first-round pick for the Bulls on July 29.
Then how is the Vucevic trade to be assessed?
“It’s very, very early to judge the trade,’’ Vucevic said recently. “Sometimes things take longer to come together.’’