CHICAGO — Technically, it could have been worse.
The Bulls had the opportunity to pick as low as 8th in the NBA Draft if things went wrong with the ping-pong balls on Tuesday night at the Hilton Chicago.
Instead, the second-worst case scenario happened.
Three teams below the top four popped into the top three, knocking the Bulls all the way down to the seventh overall pick for June’s draft. The grunt was audible on television and louder in person as arguably the biggest day for the franchise this year was shrouded with disappointment for a second-straight season.
“You always come into a situation like this hoping, you know. We got lucky years ago,” said Bulls executive vice president John Paxson. “But it didn’t work out.”
Instead, New Orleans won the first overall pick (AKA Zion Williamson), with the Grizzlies and Kicks getting the second and third, respectively (AKA Ja Morant or RJ Barrett).
Either one of them would have been great for the Bulls to add to their rebuild, which has endured two rough seasons. Now the possibilities for a selection are a bit in flux as the team is thrown into the middle of the lottery of a draft that’s been regarded by some as not being extremely deep.
“Obviously in this draft there is a generational type of guy New Orleans is better off for, but this is about building a team, and I’m always confident we’re going to find value where we draft,” said Paxson.
It’s a familiar and perhaps disappointing refrain thanks to some bad lottery luck. The Bulls traded up to get the No. 7 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft as they sent Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves and drafted Lauri Markkanen.
The first year of the rebuild saw the Bulls slip down to seven after finishing in a tie for the sixth-worst record in the league. That wasn’t so bad, but this year was much worse, considering the team’s poor and inconsistent performance over 82 games.
They had a 12.5 percent chance to get the top pick, and increased odds to crack into the top 3. Instead, they slipped three spots, forcing Paxson to look for positives in the disappointment.
“My mind immediately went to the fact that three of the top four are going out west, and New York didn’t get number one,” said Paxson. “So that’s something in our favor.”
Fans won’t buy that, and maybe even resent it in the midst of another blow for the organization this decade. No Williamson or Morant, which could have helped to immediately alter the franchise, as the team must now look closely at an open field of prospects to see which one might fit for them.
Certainly, the team has found pieces at this spot before – including Kirk Hinrich in 2003, a trade for seventh-overall pick Luol Deng from the Suns in 2004, along with Markkanen, who has shown promise in his first two years in Chicago.
Yet frustration is hard to deny, and Paxson wasn’t about to do that completely on Tuesday.
“Look, we’re disappointed too. But, like I said, there’s luck involved, and we didn’t have luck tonight” said Paxson when asked what he’d say to the Bulls’ fan base after Tuesday night. “But I say committed, along with my staff, to get this right, and again, we’re going to add another good player in this draft and we’re going to go out and try to spend some money in free agency where we add some vets that help our team.”
“So, you know, get over the disappointment quickly because we’ve got a lot of work to do.”