Bulls

Whatever the Bulls do Thursday (hint: get Michael Porter Jr.!) must work

One or more of the players taken in the first seven picks of the NBA Draft on Thursday is going to be a star. So let’s be done with the silly storyline that this draft is subpar, that there’s no difference among the top players and that it’s all a big crapshoot.

If a team knows what it’s doing and has the ability to analyze talent, it will succeed. It’s what good organizations and good
front offices do.

That brings us to the Bulls, who absolutely have to hit with the seventh pick overall if they want to take their rebuild to the next level. The pressure is on vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, the Can’t (Afford To) Miss Kids. If they don’t succeed with this pick, then they just wasted a season of tanking.

What they need now is a repeat of last year, when they stunned the NBA on draft night. Remember the abuse Gar/Pax took after trading Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the pick that would become Lauri Markkanen? The Bulls were local and national laughingstocks.

Michael Porter Jr. speaks to the media Wednesday before the 2018 NBA Draft in New York. (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Now the decision looks like a success. Markkanen is going to be a star. And you don’t hear a peep from the loud, angry voices of a year ago.

Another one of those nights, please.

The Bulls don’t have to shock the world again; they just have to be right again. But they can do both by drafting Michael Porter Jr.

My guess is that the Bulls will go conservative this time around because it’s not in their nature to be so out there in consecutive years. But who thought they would fly their freak flag even once? I certainly didn’t.

Porter comes with baggage, and don’t even bother forgiving the pun. He played in only three games as a freshman at Missouri last season, thanks to a back injury that eventually required surgery. He was the best high school player in the country the year before, the type of big-time talent who would have been a top pick if the NBA didn’t have a dumb rule about being 19 or having completed one year of college to be eligible for the draft.

Teams rightly are worried about Porter’s back. In November, he had a microdiscectomy, a procedure used to relieve pain caused by a herniated disk. Is it a huge red flag? I don’t know. I’m no doctor — too much math and science involved. But if the Bulls’ medical staff vets him, then Gar/Pax should jump at the opportunity to get a 6-10, 215-pound athlete who would be a perfect complement to Markkanen, who is a three-point threat as a 7-footer.

If the Bulls are lucky, the six teams in front of them will choose someone else. But if they think one of those teams covets Porter, they’ll have to decide if they want to go the shock-the-world route again and make a draft-night trade. Porter is the most talented player in the draft. Is his back worth the risk of trading up?

This kind of decision is why the Bulls pay Gar/Pax, sources say.

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They can go with what is safe, also known as vanilla. Or they can roll the dice and take this rebuild from Point A to Point B instead of from Point A to the 7-Eleven down the block.

I’d roll the dice. If Porter’s back were a serious issue, we would have heard something by now. There would have been whispers, federal privacy laws be damned. There has been nothing.

When Porter told media members last month he was the best player in the draft, it was a strategic move to remind everyone he was still very much around. But beyond that he probably believed what he was saying was the fact that he was right.

Whomever the Bulls choose has to be a sure thing. That’s how rebuilds work. Nobody wants to hear this draft is a series of random coin flips. The Bulls have to make the correct choice.

That might mean Porter. That might mean someone else. But they have to win Thursday to win often later.

It sounds so simple. It’s not. That’s no excuse for Gar/Pax, who have had an uneven draft record, at best. And they got the Bulls into this mess by letting a Nikola Mirotic-led team win too many games last season, dropping them to the seventh slot in the first round.

There’s a great player waiting to be taken. I think that player is Porter. The Bulls might think it’s another player. The only thing that matters is that they get the right one.

Sun-Times sports columnists Rick Morrissey and Rick Telander are co-hosts of a new podcast called “The Two Ricks: Unfiltered.” Don’t miss their candid, amusing takes on everything from professional teams tanking to overzealous sports parents and more. Download and subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts and Google Play, or via RSS feed.