The Bulls were eliminated from play-in contention before the weekend with two games remaining. This is improvement for the grand new era of Arturas Karnisovas and staff, usually Bulls games are meaningless with 35 remaining.
They wound up splitting the two games, ending the season with a win over the Bucks who rested all their starters for the playoffs. There is nothing to be learned by that win or really the final few over the past couple weeks. But the actual notches in the win column do matter.
That win, combined with both the Pelicans and Kings losing on Sunday, meant the Bulls were now in a 3-way tie for 8th worst record in the league. They all share the same 20.3% chance to jump into the top-4 picks in the Draft Lottery (June 22nd). There is a coin flip tiebreaker to come, but that is only for the draft position if the teams don’t jump into the top-4. As we know, if the Bulls selection isn’t in that top-4 it is going to the Orlando Magic.
The outcome of the lottery is a huge marker for the Bulls team-building strategy going forward. The Vucevic acquisition meant 2 more seasons with him under contract, but including a pretty lightly protected pick in this draft meant that clearly the Bulls thought they’d finish with a better record than they wound up with.
Thus, so far, that deadline trade is a gamble that lost. Maybe they get lucky, but as a famously failed GM once said “luck isn’t a plan”. I was still happy they did it, and will always remember that deadline day for the shock of the Bulls actually trying to get better, but the front office performance isn’t about pleasing blog boys in the moment. Especially with this ‘21 pick being more valuable with the Bulls losing so much post-trade, you can apply hindsight and think maybe it would’ve been wiser to use this mega-package for a better player than Vucevic. If that ‘21 pick goes, there is all of a sudden very few remaining assets to try and significantly improve the team.
That lottery obviously looms large, not just for the opportunity to add top-4 pick, but how it impacts the rest of the roster planning. With that Vucevic trade also meaning taking on Al-Farouq Aminu’s guaranteed ~$10M (it’s technically a player option, but, “this deal’s getting worse all the time” /Lando-voice), the Bulls are kind of in a no-man’s land when it comes to cap space. To get to ~$24M room available they’d have to let go of everyone even partially-guaranteed, when you start talking a lot less room (like after keeping Thad Young, for example) it’s potentially more prudent to operate over-the-cap and use exceptions. The key here when it comes to the lottery is that 1st round picks have a cap hold: if the Bulls get lucky they will get the selection but it will take away $8M in cap room, which then makes it all the more likely they don’t bother trying to gain more cap space.
Altogether this lottery is extremely critical, not just for planning the summer but us here talking about planning the summer. In the meantime I suppose we should just enjoy the playoffs, where the league has desperately tried to get Chicago in by keeping conferences and adding two play-in spots yet they still couldn’t even reach that very low bar. After trading several assets midseason! Man it’s really grim if you think of it much harder, so I’ll stop.