It doesn’t happen often – mostly because the price is so high – but there is precedent for teams trading in to the top 5 of the NBA Draft. In fact, it happened a year ago when the Dallas Mavericks dealt the No. 3 pick to the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 5 pick and a top-5 protected pick in 2019. Prior to that deal, the last team to move up that high in the draft was the 2005 Utah Jazz. They dealt three first-round picks to move up to No. 3 and select Deron Williams.
So while it’s rare to see a team jump up, it’s happened before. And there’s a feeling that the Bulls, owners of the No. 7 pick, may be interested in doing just that on Thursday night.
Rumors surfaced on Wednesday that they may be looking to move up to No. 4 or 5 to draft Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland, while Texas Tech shooting guard Jarrett Culver could also be in play.
As it stands, it seems unlikely the Bulls will be in play for the No. 4 pick. The Pelicans essentially own that pick, as it will convey to them following the completion of the Anthony Davis trade next month. But the reason the pick is up for grabs is because GM David Griffin is looking for a veteran player as part of that return package.
He believes a core of Zion Williamson (who the Pelicans will select with the first pick), Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram can compete immediately in the West. A veteran player would provide more help right away than whoever they selected at No. 4.
Zach LaVine and even Lauri Markkanen have been speculated as potential assets in deals. No one should be untouchable on a team that has won 49 combined games the past two seasons, but in a draft considered weak by many, it’s hard to see the Bulls giving up two proven young talents on team-friendly deals just to move up a few spots.
The No. 5 pick could be an interesting spot for the Bulls. The Cavaliers could move down and pick up more assets. They already own the Rockets’ first-round pick (26th overall) and might entertain grabbing a third, or even a future first-round pick.
But the Bulls aren’t alone in wanting to move up, and that’s where it gets tricky. ESPN reported Wednesday that teams attempting to move up to No. 4 (and, presumably, No. 5) included the Celtics, Hawks and Timberwolves.
Both the Celtics and Hawks have three first-round picks (Boston has 14, 20, 22; Atlanta has 8, 10 and 17) with which to leverage in a potential deal this season, meaning the Bulls would have to beat those offers by including future assets.
That likely would include a not-so-protected 2020 first-round pick, a scary proposition for two reasons: The Bulls aren’t that close to competing and likely will be a Lottery team next season, and the new Lottery system is more balanced than it was in the past: 7, 8 and 11 all moved up last month into the top 4.
The Pelicans at 4 or Cavaliers at 5 could create a bidding war among teams looking to move up, either by including more picks or young players or having bidders continually reduce the protections on future picks.
So, here's what a hypothetical package could look like for the Bulls:
Bulls trade: No. 7 pick in 2019, 2020 first-round pick (top-10 protected; top-5 protected in 2020; top-3 protected in 2021; unprotected in 2022)
Bulls get: No. 4/5 pick in 2019
Those protections are similar to the ones the Mavericks put on their pick in the Doncic/Young deal, though the Bulls may be able to protect theirs a little better because the jump from 7 to 4/5 isn't as large as 5 to 3 and because the class isn't as strong.
When the Mavericks dealt their top-5 protected pick to the Hawks last year, their prize was Doncic. He turned out to be a franchise-changing pick. Guys like Garland and Culver may pan out, but the incentive to move up isn’t as high as it was last season because of the weak nature of the draft. There isn't a Doncic. Heck, there isn't a Trae Young or even Wendell Carter Jr.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, that doesn’t mean the price tag will come down. With so many teams reportedly trying to move up, they may need to overpay to move up and get their guy.
And it's not as though the Pelicans or Cavaliers NEED to get out of where they're picking. The worst-case scenario is drafting the player so many teams are trying to move up for. Draft capital is expensive, as the Bulls are sure to find out tonight if and when they try to make a deal.