Over the past 20 years, the Eastern Conference has been substantially weaker than its Western Conference counterpart. Whether this was a result of teams ducking LeBron James, or just plain coincidence, it’s hard to say. One thing’s for sure though, the East made a comeback in a big way this season, and the Chicago Bulls were just one of many victims who suffered from an increase in the quality of competition.
Entering the season, the Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, and Nets (prior to the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving trades) were all seen as frontrunners. The Heat were coming off the heels of a Conference Finals appearance in 2022 and would eventually advance to the NBA Finals in 2023. The Cavaliers, Knicks, Pacers, and Hawks all made splashy acquisitions for a star guard with Donovan Mitchell, Jalen Brunson, Tyrese Haliburton, and Dejounte Murray, respectively.
And the Bulls? They did, well… nothing.
This fact hasn’t been lost on those around the league, as even Damian Lillard is beginning to realize his best route to a championship ring just might be with a supporting cast from the East, not Portland. When proposed a scenario where he could join up with one of the teams mentioned above, Dame didn’t hesitate for even a second to give his response.
“Miami, obviously,” Lillard said, “Miami is the obvious one, and Bam is my dog. Bam is my dog for real.”
Contending would become an even more impossible goal for the Bulls if Damian Lillard moves to the Eastern Conference.
While Lillard did go on to later qualify that he expects to be with the Trail Blazers again next season, it’s hard to put too much stock in that statement considering there’s not much else he could have said. If Dame were to join up with the Heat (or even the Nets, who he also mentioned as an ideal landing spot), the Eastern Conference would only become an even more formidable series of hurdles to overcome.
Considering everything Lillard has done for the city of Portland and the Trail Blazers as an organization, he’s expected to have his pick of the litter when it comes to determining his next destination if he’s traded. Despite his possible blunder in reporting the recent Chris Paul news, Chris Haynes has always had a close ear to Lillard’s camp and I have very little reason to doubt this update on Dame.
"“If it gets to that point, they would consult with Dame. He’s been there 10 years, he’s been a model citizen, represented that city and organization with class. I think they would try to get him where he wants to go in the East.”"
Last season, the Bulls weren’t even good enough to qualify for the playoffs, much less best one of the East’s top teams in a seven-game series. Since Lonzo Ball went down with an injury in 2022, the Bulls have posted a cumulative record of 64-65. Trusting this current core to manage a run where they best Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, and a Lillard-led Miami squad is simply foolish.
For all who aren’t still living in denial, this harsh truth should have already been apparent by the end of this season. But the possibility of Lillard joining an already stacked Eastern Conference should be the final nail in the coffin for this failed experiment from Chicago’s front office. Delaying the inevitable and attempting to compete for a championship again is beginning to seem more and more like a futile goal. Maybe, just maybe, if the Bulls commit to a rebuild, they can finally build around a player of Lillard’s caliber.