Was there a more appropriate landing spot for the Bulls in Tuesday night’s NBA lottery? OK, you’re right: Eighth, the farthest they could have fallen, would have been perfect for a franchise that doesn’t have luck or expertise on its side.
It wasn’t enough that the biggest prize, Duke’s Zion Williamson, went to another franchise. Oh, no. It had to be that the Bulls, with the fourth-worst record in the NBA last season and a 12.5 percent chance of landing the No. 1 pick, dropped like a bowling ball on a foot (probably Lauri Markkanen’s foot, causing him to miss the first six weeks of next season).
What followed was predictable, with Bulls vice president John Paxson saying he was disappointed in how the night played out but that there would be a good player available at No. 7.
I don’t want to go as far as to say the Bulls are snakebit. That would relieve the people in charge of personal responsibility. But beyond there being a feeling in Chicago that the Bulls would not win the right to draft Williamson, there was the heavy suspicion that something bad would happen.
And it did, with New Orleans winning the Zion Sweepstakes and the Bulls free-falling to seventh.
The arrow is pointing up for the young Bulls, but the ceiling above that arrow looks problematic. As constructed, including whomever they take at No. 7, the Bulls feel like a sixth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference the next season or two, with the possibility of being a fourth seed down the road.
I say that because of the Bulls’ lousy history of attracting veteran players. Big-time free agents have not wanted to come to Chicago. At least not to stay. They do like our restaurants and nightclubs.
It figures that the Bulls didn’t play the tanking game well enough to earn the best chance (14 percent) of getting the top pick. But it’s beyond fitting that they were done in by a new lottery system that spread the Ping-Pong balls more evenly among eligible teams. They couldn’t even move into the second or third spot, which would have gotten them Murray State’s Ja Morant or Duke’s RJ Barrett.
You can call that bad luck or you can call that an unfair lottery setup. I prefer to call it Bull, with all its various connotations.
It takes stars, plural, to win an NBA championship. That’s why getting one of the first two picks in the June 20 draft was so important. Williamson will be a superstar who fills arenas. Morant should be a star point guard. Either one of them would have been a huge addition for the Bulls and, just as important, might have ended the post-Michael Jordan-era legacy of primo free agents avoiding Jerry Reinsdorf’s team. Top talent would have wanted to come to Chicago. Even Barrett, a sort of Williamson lite, would have done wonders for the Bulls’ outlook on life.
But, no. Now they have to cross their fingers that Markkanen, Zach LaVine or Wendell Carter Jr. will turn into a superstar.
Paxson believes that the acquisition of Otto Porter Jr. last season counts as a big veteran addition. We’ll see. It’s hard to know how any of this will work because the team had so many injuries during the 2018-19 season.
What it means for sure is that Bulls fans will have to proceed with faith. Faith in the Bulls, like faith in government, is a tough sell, and even team executives seem to understand that. Attendance has dipped, and in response, the Bulls have taken to having Paxson, general manager Gar Forman and coach Jim Boylen reach out to season-ticket holders.
They could have stopped doing that if NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum had announced that the first pick in the 2019 draft was going to the Chicago Bulls. Williamson would have sold out the United Center every night. He has that kind of talent and charisma.
Instead, the Bulls have to hope that they pick the right player with the seventh pick. “Hope’’ seems to be the key word here. They haven’t drafted well in the last 10 years.
The other day, I suggested that if you’re going to dream, dream big. Dream about getting Williamson, I wrote. What a beautiful future that would be, filled with possibility and fun.
And now? The future is fuzzy and unclear. It might be good. It might not be. Sort of like the seventh pick in the draft.