Someone in the Bulls’ front office needs to grab a red pen and circle the week of March 18 on the calendar because it might go down as the biggest slip-up in the second year of the rebuild.
Indeed, that week might sting when the balls are bouncing around for the NBA Draft lottery May 14.
It started on Monday, March 18, in Cleveland. The Cavaliers upset the red-hot Pistons that night, with rookie Collin Sexton scoring 27 points.
Just more than 2,000 miles away, the Bulls were going through warmups and were well aware of what the scoreboard said. Yet Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Robin Lopez, who scored 24 points, went out and beat the Suns 116-101 in Phoenix.
On Wednesday, March 20, the Cavs upset the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks in Cleveland and the Bulls pulled out a 126-120 victory against the Wizards at the United Center, thanks to 32 points from Markkanen and 26 from Dunn.
Otto Porter Jr. (right shoulder) and LaVine (right knee) didn’t play, but Dunn played 39 minutes and Markkanen 38.
Neither the Bulls nor the Cavs have won a game since, leaving the Bulls two games ahead of them in the standings in the ‘‘battle’’ for the third-worst record in the league.
‘‘I’d rather see the development of the players . . . over anything else right now,’’ Bulls president and COO Michael Reinsdorf said when he was asked last month about the philosophy of winning games over lottery position.
That’s fine, but the players the Bulls wanted developed soon went down with injuries, with Dunn (strained back) and Markkanen (fatigue) joining Porter and LaVine in street clothes.
Many on the outside have downplayed the newly flattened draft odds, insisting there isn’t a big difference between the percentages of landing the No. 1 overall pick. The three worst teams right now — the Knicks, Suns and Cavs — each have a 14 percent chance of landing the top pick; the Bulls are at 12.5 percent.
‘‘Every percentage point counts,’’ Reinsdorf said last month, indicating the 1.5 percent difference is still significant.
Just not at the cost of what he called ‘‘development’’ two weeks ago.
It’s a philosophy the Bulls didn’t embrace last season, depending on whom you talk to. A source told the Sun-Times the Bulls’ front office was so interested in losing games for draft position late last season that it was angry with the coaching staff for not limiting shooting guard Sean Kilpatrick’s minutes in the second half of a game in April.
Kilpatrick had some impressive games in the last week of the season, and the front office supposedly didn’t want him shooting the Bulls out of their draft spot. Sitting Kilpatrick wouldn’t catch the eye of the NBA office, which already had warned the Bulls about looking too tanky.
Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, however, said in a text Sunday that it wasn’t the case and that Kilpatrick was added to the roster so the Bulls could ‘‘see him play.’’
If the season ends with the bottom four staying in their current positions and the Knicks or Suns land the No. 1 pick, this all would be moot. But if the Cavaliers somehow land the No. 1 pick with the third-worst record, there won’t be enough red pens to circle away the Bulls’ decision-making.