Bulls’ future creates widespread speculation at NBA Draft Combine

Bulls’ future creates speculation at NBA Draft Combine originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Annually, the week of the NBA Draft Combine is for rumors. Typically, the week of the NBA Draft is for reality.

Every year, the league descends upon Chicago to set the draft order at the draft lottery and scout prospects at the combine. But other action takes place in hotel lobbies and arena hallways, where a mixture of league executives, agents and reporters mingle and leaguewide gossip rules the day.

And the Chicago Bulls featured prominently in such talk throughout the week.

Much like an anxious fan base, various league executives are wondering: What will the Bulls do, if anything, to extract themselves from their current state of mediocrity?

The speculation ranged from matters as bold as engaging the Portland Trail Blazers in trade talks centered on the No. 3 pick and Zach LaVine to lesser matters such as Patrick Williams’ future as he enters an offseason where he becomes extension eligible.

Concrete answers typically come during draft week, set for June 22 this year. Along with the week of the trade deadline, that’s typically when major deals happen.

About the only sure thing for now is what Artūras Karnišovas stated at his season-ending news conference, that the Bulls won’t go into a full rebuild.

But while that stance dominated headlines last month after the Bulls’ play-in loss to the Miami Heat, another Karnišovas’ comment from that day flew a bit under the radar.

“My responsibility is to look at everything. At the end of the day, to be a .500 team is not good enough. It’s not good enough for this organization. It’s not good enough for the fan base. They deserve better, so I’m going to have to look at everything,” Karnišovas said on April 15. “How can I help this group to do better? We have to move forward. But I’ll be open to anything.”

To be clear, retaining the core and trying to add shooting and stabilize the point guard position with salary-cap exceptions certainly remains a solid possibility, if not a likelihood. But the fact the Bulls are embarking on their same predraft process—and interviewing projected lottery picks at the combine—despite not currently owning a pick indicates management is open to anything.

So is the fact they’ve landed so predominately in leaguewide speculation this week.

The Bulls and Trail Blazers already had been linked to negotiating in advance of draft day because of the lottery-protected, first-round pick Portland owes from the three-team trade where Lauri Markkanen moved to Cleveland, Larry Nance came to the Trail Blazers and Derrick Jones Jr. landed in Chicago.

But that speculation centered on the first-round pick that the Trail Blazers had acquired from the New York Knicks in February’s Josh Hart trade—set now at No. 23.

After the Trail Blazers jumped from the fifth to third pick at Tuesday’s draft lottery, multiple outlets reported that Portland will explore the market for that pick in an attempt to land a big splash for Damian Lillard. Would the Bulls instead engage in talks for that pick, which unequivocally would necessitate the inclusion of LaVine or, alternatively, DeMar DeRozan?

One league source told NBC Sports Chicago that if the Trail Blazers went this route, they would be focused on more defensive-minded, two-way players. Lillard does have strong relationships with both LaVine and DeRozan, the former of whom he played with at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. So stay tuned.

Given the massive uncertainty surrounding Lonzo Ball’s future, landing Scoot Henderson would be a dream addition for the Bulls. That would necessitate the Charlotte Hornets drafting Brandon Miller with the second pick and the Bulls and Trail Blazers to find common ground on a trade.

It’s a lead executive’s job to explore all avenues to try to improve a team. This week continues the groundwork on that task. Time will tell if what is speculation and gossip for now remains as rumor or becomes reality.

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