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Central intelligence could catch up to Bulls in the next three years

The Eastern Conference Central Division definitely could improve in the wake of Tuesday’s draft lottery as potential star power is headed to the have-nots.

With the Pistons expected to take Cade Cunningham in the draft next month, the Central Division will become more challenging for the Bulls.
With the Pistons expected to take Cade Cunningham in the draft next month, the Central Division will become more challenging for the Bulls.
Sue Ogrocki/AP

There’s the possibility of grabbing a point guard like a Daishen Nix.

Or maybe the Bulls go the draft-and-stash route for the second summer in a row, targeting a Rokas Jokubaitis or Roko Prkacin, the youngest player in the 2021 NBA Draft.

Whatever direction executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas chooses with the 38th overall pick next month, expect it to feel a bit empty.

That’s not to say that Karnisovas doesn’t have the scouting talent to pick a second-round gem. Karnisovas played a role in drafting Nikola Jokic in the second round when he was the assistant general manager in 2014 with the Nuggets.

But there are more Paul Zipsers and Cameron Bairstows that have been taken in Round Two than an impact All-Star such as Jokic or Draymond Green.

That’s just draft reality.

Also, life in the Central Divsion in the Eastern Conference could be getting a bit tougher for the Bulls the next few seasons, with the Pistons landing the top overall pick and the Cavaliers grabbing the No. 3 spot.

Not that anyone is ready to challenge the Bucks for division supremacy, but the Bulls were at least able to count on Cleveland and Detroit as being perennial cellar dwellers the last few seasons. That likely won’t change with just one more draft class, but the Central could look a lot different in three years.

Here’s why with a lottery mock draft:

1. Pistons

Cade Cunningham, PG, Oklahoma State: The Pistons added three solid future role players in Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Killian Hayes in last year’s draft and now have a guard with generational-talent potential in Cunningham.

2. Rockets

Evan Mobley, C, USC: Mobley has a much different physical build than Deandre Ayton, but has a very similar athleticism when it comes to shot-blocking and defending smaller players on the switch.

3. Cavaliers

Jalen Green, SG, G League Ignite: Would the Cavs go to the backcourt once again? Why not, especially with an explosive scorer like Green. This could also make Darius Garland or more likely Collin Sexton available as a trade chip.

4. Raptors

Jalen Suggs, PG/SG, Gonzaga: With Kyle Lowry expected to be out the door, the Raptors grab his replacement at the point-guard position. The Bulls sob.

5. Magic

Jonathan Kuminga, F, G League Ignite: An athletic wing who can play either forward spot is just what the rebuilding Magic ordered.

6. Thunder

Scottie Barnes, F, Florida State: Like the Bulls’ Patrick Williams did in his one season at FSU, Barnes came off the bench but showed high-ceiling potential as a top recruit in the country.

7. Warriors

Davion Mitchell, PG, Baylor: The Warriors are in win-now mode, so all Mitchell will be asked to do is remain one of the top perimeter defenders in the draft class.

8. Magic

Keon Johnson, G, Tennessee: Right behind Green as far as explosive scorers. Magic cash in on the Bulls’ pick.

9. Kings

Moses Moody, F, Arkansas: His defense is NBA-ready, while his offense is the wild-card.

10. Pelicans

James Bouknight, G, Connecticut: Elite scorer for a backcourt that could be elsewhere in free agency.

11. Hornets

Franz Wagner, F, Michigan: High-intensity, high-IQ versatile forward.

12. Spurs

Jalen Johnson, F, Duke: Versatile forward who can make plays and defend.

13. Pacers

Josh Giddey, PG/SG, Adelaide (Australia): At 6-9, he brings uncanny court vision and passing to a backcourt.

14. Warriors

Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga: Of course, the Warriors add the best outside shooter in the draft.