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Sports Saturday

‘Best available player’ by the Bulls will send ripples through roster

In landing the No. 4 pick in last week’s draft lottery, the Bulls have some tough decisions to start to make as the new regime puts the rebuild under the microscope.

Obi Toppin could fit in well with the Bulls’ Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen.
Obi Toppin could fit in well with the Bulls’ Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen.
AP

It’s a vague term sports executives love to throw around at draft time:

“Best player available.’’

Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas isn’t above that.

After the Bulls moved up from the projected No. 7 pick to the No. 4 selection in the draft lottery last week, Karnisovas talked about strategy without actually giving anything away.

It was the ultimate example of basketball ops-speak, and ‘‘best player available’’ was part of his vernacular.

‘‘Obviously, I’ve never picked that high [during his days as the Nuggets’ general manager],’’ Karnisovas said. ‘‘So I’ll let it always play out. We’re doing a bunch of rankings. By the time the draft comes, we’ll have our draft board and a lot of opinions. Then we’ll minimize the noise and pick the player that’s best available on the board. So that’s going to be the strategy.

‘‘A bunch of things happen in the draft. You’re going to move up. You’re going to move down. Who knows? There’s going to be a lot of conversations with other teams.’’

And after the pick is made, there are going to be some hard conversations with his players.

This 2020 first-round draft pick is more than just another piece of the Bulls’ rebuild. It will let the existing foundation of the rebuild know exactly what the new regime thinks of it.

The safe route

With small forward Otto Porter Jr. expected to opt in at $28.5 million for the 2020-21 season, he will be playing for his next contract — one that undoubtedly won’t be with the Bulls.

The Bulls’ depth at small forward has been an issue since Jimmy Butler was traded in 2017, and 2018 first-round pick Chandler Hutchison has shown little to ease the their concerns about the position.

That’s why picking Deni Avdija or Isaac Okoro would result in the fewest waves to the roster.

Both are small forwards — albeit with different strengths — and would be groomed to take over for Porter when he’s elsewhere.

Okoro is considered the best perimeter defender in the draft, and Avdija is more of the international man of mystery, showing MVP ability in the Israeli league this past season.

Because of his ability to play either forward spot, Obi Toppin might be the pick. He has skills that would allow him to play alongside Wendell Carter Jr. or Lauri Markkanen. Plus, if talks with Markkanen about a contract extension don’t go well, the Bulls can wait until he becomes a restricted free agent in 2021, see where Toppin is by then and weigh his ceiling against what the market sets for Markkanen.

Message sent

Zach LaVine has two more seasons on his contract but can get a three-year, $76 million extension as early as October. If the Bulls draft shooting guard Anthony Edwards, however, it would let LaVine know his days might be numbered.

It might even lead to LaVine being traded in the next two seasons.

Big pick

Carter wants more playing time at power forward, and he might get it if the Bulls draft 7-footer James Wiseman.

The domino effect of that would be Carter and Markkanen having to compete for minutes at power forward, allowing the Bulls to get a real assessment of which is smarter for the foundation moving forward.

With possibly $50 million in cap space for the highly publicized 2021 free-agent class, the Bulls need to know whom they have as a selling point to try to attract superstar talent.

Point of contention

Kris Dunn will be a restricted free agent, and Coby White still has to show he has point-guard skills, starting with court vision.

But what if the Bulls draft LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton or Killian Hayes? Ball is a pure point guard, while Haliburton and Hayes also can play off the ball. Any one of the three likely would close the book on Dunn’s time with the Bulls and put White in compete mode.