In the wake of the Bulls’ jump from seven to four at the 2020 NBA Draft Lottery, Artūras Karnišovas projected satisfaction tangible even over Zoom from his freshly-minted seat as executive vice president of basketball operations.
“We’re extremely happy,” he said, adding that the move broke from the franchise’s recent tradition.
On Tuesday, that tradition reared its head.
At the 2021 lottery, the Bulls failed to cash a 20.3 percent chance of jumping into the top four of July’s draft. Their pick landed eighth and will thus convey to the Orlando Magic as part of the Nikola Vučević trade.
Entering the night, the Bulls had a 34.5 percent chance of landing eighth. Barring a trade back into the draft, it will be the first time since 2005 they do not make a first-round pick.
Karnišovas and Co. swung the bold move for Vučević hours before last season’s trade deadline, swapping Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and top-four protected first-round picks in 2021 and 2023 for the two-time All-Star center and Al-Farouq Aminu.
While the trade signaled a desire for the Bulls to compete for a playoff spot, the short-term results underwhelmed. The team went 12-17 in 29 post-deadline games (a worse winning percentage than their 19-24 pre-deadline record) and slipped from 10th to 11th in the Eastern Conference — missing not just the playoffs, but also the play-in tournament in the progress.
“The greatest lessons are learned through experiencing what doesn’t work. We have to grow from going through what we went through this year and move forward to gain respect in this league,” Karnišovas said at his end-of-season press conference. “We are certainly not satisfied.”
Now, a roster in need of multiple improvements won’t get the benefit of adding a top-eight draft pick. In the near-term, it’s a worst-case result.
The Bulls, though, surely have contingency plans in place. The team has the ability to generate significant flexibility under the salary cap this offseason or seek upgrades in the form of exceptions if they operate over the cap. Trades — or sign-and-trades — are always possible.
“It depends on the lottery odds, and if we don’t get our pick we still have a second-round pick. We have free agency and trades to get better. We have a lot of free agents this year and I think leading to Aug. 1 is going to be huge preparation for us,” Karnišovas said in May. “I think when you have a foundation of let’s say two All-Stars in one place, I think it’s easier to add additional things that we need. So we’re going to discuss the needs of the team and we’ll attack it during free agency.’’
The Bulls also have their 2020 second-round draft pick, Marko Simonović, waiting in the wings. Simonović was stashed overseas for the 2020-21 season, but, without specifying a timeline, Karnišovas said that he’s in the team’s plans moving forward.
And the Bulls won’t be totally idle on draft night. By virtue of a pick swap with the New Orleans Pelicans acquired in the 2018 Nikola Mirotić trade, the Bulls own the 38th overall pick in the draft, the eighth selection in the second round.