How the Bulls might land the first round in 2023 despite Portland’s fading

How the Bulls might land the first round in 2023 despite Portland's fading

LOS ANGELES — Just shy of two weeks ago, things looked bleak for the Chicago Bulls.

A last-second loss at home to the Sacramento Kings halted some of the post-All-Star break’s momentum and dropped the Bulls to No. 12 in the race for play. And with the Portland Trail Blazers fading from play-by-play contention as well, their hopes of securing a lottery-protected first-round draft pick from Portland in a trade for Lauri Markkanen looked dim.

Remember: The Bulls owe their first-round pick to the Orlando Magic unless they land in the top four, the final installment of a Nikola Vucevic trade.

Since then, the Bulls have won five of six games heading into Monday night’s game with the Los Angeles Clippers. And even with the Trail Blazers finishing 13th and talking about shutting down Damian Lillard, there’s a logical path the Bulls could still land in the first round in the June NBA draft.

It centers around Portland’s trade of Josh Hart to the Knicks. In that deal, the Trail Blazers also acquired a lottery-protected first-round pick from the Knicks.

With the Knicks in fifth place and in possession of a two-game lead over seventh-ranked Miami with seven games to go, there is a strong chance the Knicks will make the playoffs. If they do, their 2023 first-round selection will go to the Trail Blazers.

Portland, always looking to upgrade the roster to appease Lillard, doesn’t have much commercial flexibility until the pending compensation draft commitment to the Bulls is finalized. Thus, the Trail Blazers may either have to discuss a first-round protection change that the Bulls owe or perhaps even send the Knicks’ pick to the Bulls in order to select them again.

That way, the Trail Blazers will have more business flexibility going forward. They will be free to trade future picks and/or discuss picking trade-offs because their compensation project to the bulls will be honored.

Of course, there is no guarantee that this will happen. It takes two teams to work and agree on things like this.

But speaking to reporters in Portland the day after the Feb. 9 trade deadline, Trail Blazers General Manager Joe Cronin acknowledged that he had spoken to the bulls “almost in every transaction window” to lay out a “real light foundation” for the above potential scenario.

“Whether it’s changing protections for a certain year and bringing them in, or we’re incentivizing them in some way just to get the full pick,” Cronin told reporters in Portland. “It could be a player. It could be all kinds of variations.”

On trade deadline night, EVP Arturas Karnicovas cited the signings and trades he and his staff made during the 2021 season for Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan as an example of creative ways to improve the roster. The implication was that the Bulls could get creative again.

This potential 2023 first-round selection path could be one example.

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