It’s been a rough 36 hours for Chicago Bulls fans everywhere, as I’m sure several of us are well on our way through the seven stages of grief. No, the Bulls haven’t moved up to draft in the top four this year. Not only that, they won’t be drafting at all for that matter. After trading away their first-round pick for Nikola Vucevic, their second-rounder for Otto Porter Jr., and having Denver’s second-rounder confiscated as punishment for Lonzo Ball, Chicago is out of luck here.
Despite the sour taste the draft lottery has left in our mouths, there may actually be a silver lining here. Thanks to none other than Trail Blazers superstar Damian Lillard, the Bulls may have a newfound route toward re-acquiring some essential draft capital.
Known to have had a close ear on Lillard’s camp, Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes (formerly of Yahoo Sports) offers a surprising report that “Portland is expected to make No. 3 pick available.”
Whether or not the Blazers should rebuild their roster around this No. 3 pick or go all-in on competing in a league that has more parity than ever is a difficult question to answer, but it should come as no surprise that several fans have strong feelings on the matter. Haynes’ report has prompted a loud response from angry fans that would like to follow the suit of several other teams around the league by not trading the No. 3 pick, but rather Lillard himself.
Internal turmoil between Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers may grant the Bulls a chance to get back into the 2023 NBA Draft.
Of course, it was foolish to expect that this would go entirely unnoticed by a very active Twitter user like Lillard himself. He didn’t hold back on expressing his discontent with the dismissive way fans were talking about a potential end to his Blazers tenure.
Although I believe Dame made his stance abundantly clear here, he followed up with a second tweet to remove any shadow of a doubt that he’s not happy about a vocal part of the fanbase wishing to trade him away. No matter what happens here, the Bulls stand to potentially benefit in a big way.
There are only two routes left for Portland to explore at this point, so let’s take a look at how each scenario would play out:
- #1: The Trail Blazers trade the No. 3 pick to build around Dame
If Portland is determined to make the most of Dame’s window, they will want a superstar player to pair with Lillard. If the Blazers went down this road, we could expect them to pursue players like Joel Embiid, Jaylen Brown, or similar players of that caliber. To accomplish this, they’ll almost certainly need to add some combination of Anfernee Simons, Shaedon Sharpe, and additional first-round picks in addition to this year’s third overall selection to get a deal done.
However, since the Bulls own the Blazers’ next available non-lottery pick, they can’t trade away their own future firsts until this pick has finally been conveyed. This gives the Bulls a lot of leverage here, as the clock is ticking for Portland and they may never have a shot this good again. Fortunately, the Blazers also own the Knicks’ first-round pick this year, meaning Chicago could give Portland their future pick back in exchange for No. 23 overall this season. This would give the Bulls a chance to improve via the draft while also allowing the Blazers to trade future firsts for a star of their choice.
- #2: Portland trades Lillard away and commits to a rebuild
For the same reasons as mentioned above, not having control of their future draft picks would negatively affect the Blazers in a big way. Granted, the pick they owe to Chicago is protected all the way through 2028, at which point it would convert to a pair of second-rounders. From a pure basketball standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of completely tearing down the franchise and spending the next five years constructing a team that’s genuinely capable of competing for a championship. We’ve seen Oklahoma City already execute that same plan to great success in a much smaller time frame.
For a smaller market team run by a money-oriented owner, however, that’s simply not going to fly from a logistical perspective. No general manager is getting Jody Allen to sign off on running in the red five years in a row just for a chance to win a championship. Sacrificing the 23rd pick for full control of all future assets is the much more realistic route for this team to take.
It may not seem like much, but receiving the No. 23 pick is better than doing nothing in what looks to be an absolutely loaded draft class. Without this mounting pressure in Portland, it’s very likely they would have been much more content just running things back and profiting off the hopes of their fanbase. If the Bulls strike fast here, we may just have Lillard to thank for whichever promising rookie joins the squad later this summer.