John Paxson admitted at his end-of-year press conference in April that the Bulls’ rebuild was moving along quicker than expected, and that they didn’t plan to be in this position – a 27-win team ranked 28th in offense and defense – ever again. He’s not wrong. Lauri Markkanen has proved to be a promising young piece, Kris Dunn showed a pulse after a woeful rookie season and Zach LaVine, for better or worse, averaged 16.7 points and, most importantly, stayed healthy.
The Bulls are one of five teams with multiple first-round picks – Phoenix, Philadelphia and the Clippers have two and Atlanta has three – and ample cap space to be active in free agency. All that looks good on paper and is true. The Bulls have a solid foundation with which to enter Year 2 of the rebuild. The other reality is that the team is incredibly shallow on talent. Assuming David Nwaba (and LaVine) both re-sign, the Bulls really only have five players they could truly consider part of the future: Markkanen, Dunn, LaVine, Nwaba, Bobby Portis (and even Portis remains a question mark given the contract he’ll need in 13 months).
So it’s entirely feasible that the Bulls, sitting at No. 7 in this year’s draft, could look to move out of that slot if the first six picks go in an unfavorable order. We will safely assume in this scenario Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson and Mo Bamba are off the board. If the Bulls aren’t sold on Michael Porter’s medicals and Trae Young goes sixth, they may want to move out. Or, if they feel comfortable with Kris Dunn running the point and improving his jumper and Michael Porter goes sixth, they may want to move out instead of drafting Young.
Whatever the scenario, let’s say it plays out where the Bulls don’t like their options at No. 7 as much as they would like moving back in the draft, dealing with a team that loves Porter or Young.
The two most likely scenarios for moving back involve the Clippers and Suns. Beginning with Los Angeles, Doc Rivers’ group missed the postseason (one Lottery pick) after dealing Blake Griffin (for, among other assets, another Lottery pick) at the deadline. Depth has been an issue for them, but with a 31-year-old Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan entering a contract year (assuming he opts in) they aren’t exactly getting younger. Perhaps they want to make another run at the postseason and add a more ready Day 1 contributor. The proposed deal would be the Clippers packaging Nos. 12 and 13 for No. 7.
Phoenix holds the No. 1 pick in addition to the No. 16 pick they acquired from Miami as part of the Goran Dragic deal in 2015. Rumors are floating that they’re attempting to get back into the top half of the Lottery to make a run at Young, who obviously won’t be available at 16.
Phoenix could, in theory, package No. 16 and an unprotected first-round pick to the Bulls for No. 7. The Suns had the league’s worst record a year ago but would undoubtedly improve in a scenario where they added Ayton and Young to a core with Devin Booker, Marquese Criss and T.J. Warren. This wouldn’t make Phoenix a playoff threat – or, realistically, even a 33-win team – giving the Bulls a top-10 pick in next year’s draft. The Bulls would then pick at 16 and 22 this year.
Even if Phoenix put some kind of protections on the pick (it couldn’t be heavy considering they’re only getting adding the 16th pick in the deal) the Bulls are still looking at a top future pick from the Suns.
There is precedent for teams trading back in the top 10, though not with the No. 7 pick or better. Here’s are close as we could find in the last decade or so.
2017: Sacramento trades No. 10 to Portland for Nos. 15 and 20
2016: Sacramento trades No. 8 to Phoenix for Nos. 13 and 28 and Bojan Bogdanovic (+ 2020 2nd)
2014: Denver trades No. 11 to Chicago for Nos. 16 and 19
2013: Minnesota trades No. 9 to Utah for Nos. 14 and 21
Short-term it of course would be better for the Bulls to retain two picks in this year's Lottery, and have 12, 13 and 22. It's not so much overkill as it three opportunities to find a real player for the future. They've got 11 players under contract before re-signing Zach LaVine, David Nwaba and potentially Noah Vonleh. They could also cut Paul Zipser without much of a cap hit, so it's realistic for them to add three first-rounders to the roster. A lot depends on what Paxson and Gar Forman think of the players slotted to go at the end of the Lottery.
Long-term the Suns' offer probably makes more sense. Even a realistic outlook has the Bulls perhaps two years away from the postseason. That means receiving a 2019 Lottery pick from the Suns gives the Bulls two picks in that draft to go with a core of Markkanen/Dunn/LaVine/Portis/16th pick/22nd pick. That appears to be a better path to success in 2020, especially if the Suns struggle and convey a top-5 or top-7 pick to the Bulls. If they really believe Young is the real deal they'd be willing to give up a first-round pick next year.
IF the Bulls were to trade back in the first round, which deal would you prefer for the No. 7 pick?— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) June 12, 2018