Unlucky Bulls will draft No. 7 again; Pelicans get No. 1
If someone asked before Tuesday's NBA Draft lottery what's the craziest thing that could happen, this was probably it.
The New Orleans Pelicans, last seen trying to fight off a trade request from star center Anthony Davis, won the top pick and the right to select Duke forward Zion Williamson in the June 20 NBA Draft.
The Bulls, meanwhile, landed at unlucky No. 7 for the second consecutive year. They chose Wendell Carter Jr. with the seventh pick last year and got another No. 7 pick in 2017's draft-night trade for Lauri Markkanen.
After posting the fourth-worst record in the league last season at 21-61, the Bulls had a 12.5% chance to land the top pick.
"There's luck involved and we didn't have luck tonight," Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said in the Grand Ballroom of the Chicago Hilton. "But I stay committed, along with my staff, to get this right.
"We're going to add another good player in this draft, go out and try to spend some money in free agency where we add some vets that help our team. We'll get over the disappointment quickly because we have a lot of work to do."
Paxson acknowledged there are different ways to get better, including trading the pick. Moving into the top two slots seems impossible, but there are some scenarios that could come into play.
If Memphis takes Murray State point guard Ja Morant at No. 2, would the Grizzlies be willing to move all-star-caliber veteran Mike Conley? The Bulls could absorb most of his hefty salary, but Conley turns 32 in October, so he might be a little old for a rebuild.
The Bulls might look closely at a couple of point guards at No. 7, Vanderbilt's Darius Garland and North Carolina's Coby White. Then again, the Bulls already have a young point guard in Kris Dunn and might prefer to add someone with experience. It will be interesting to see if the Bulls make a run at Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley, a Chicago native, in free agency.
A player who could make sense for the Bulls is 6-9 forward Sekou Doumbouya, a native of Guinea who has been playing professionally in France. He's an athletic, high-upside type of player who might have a chance at defending some of those tough matchups in the East like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
"I've talked to our entire group about keeping an open mind here," Paxson said. "We now get to go through the process of bringing guys in for workouts, getting to know them better. That's what this is all about. That's the fun part for us. We'll get after that right away."
Of the teams with the four worst records in the league, only New York landed a top-four pick. After New Orleans, Memphis will pick second, New York third and the Los Angeles Lakers fourth, followed by Cleveland, Phoenix, the Bulls, Atlanta, Washington, Atlanta (from Dallas), Minnesota, Charlotte, Miami and Boston (from Sacramento).
The NBA made a drastic change in the lottery odds this year in an effort to lessen the incentive for teams to tank. In the past, the team with the worst record had a 25% chance of getting the top pick. Starting this year, the bottom three teams all had a 14% chance. Also, the league used the lottery to select the top four teams on Tuesday, before the rest of the teams were lined up based on worst record. In previous years, only the first three spots were chosen by lottery.
"From a league perspective, they have to be thrilled with how it played out," Paxson said. "They did it for a lot of different reasons, because they don't want teams to throw in the towel 20 games into the season. Tonight showed what they envisioned probably fell true. I had a funny feeling something odd was going to happen and it did."
New Orleans and Memphis both had a 6% chance at the top pick. The Lakers moved up from No. 11 to 4 with 2% odds.
Oddly enough, New Orleans was represented onstage by newly-hired director of basketball operations David Griffin, who was with the Cavaliers when they won the No. 1 pick three times in four years from 2011-14. Griffin said he wore a lucky lottery tie worn by a Cavs staffer during their run of lottery success.
"This just jump-starts the process," Griffin said. "It will be harder for me to mess it up than it would have been before this."
Davis is under contract for another year anyway, but adding Williamson figures to increase the chances Davis stays in New Orleans. He asked for a trade shortly before the trade deadline in February.
"It's the same situation," Griffin said. "We want to create an environment that players are attracted to. We feel very strongly that Anthony in totality will be attracted to what we can build and what we can offer."
Mike McGraw's post-lottery NBA mock draft1. New Orleans: Zion Williamson, PF, Duke
2. Memphis: Ja Morant, PG, Murray State
3. New York: R.J. Barrett, SF, Duke
4. L.A. Lakers: DeAndre Hunter, SG, Virginia
5. Cleveland: Jarrett Culver, SF, Texas Tech
6. Phoenix: Darius Garland, PG, Vanderbilt
7. BULLS: Sekou Doumbouya, PF, Guinea
8. Atlanta: Cam Reddish, SF, Duke
9. Washington: Brandon Clarke, PF, Gonzaga
10. Atlanta (from Dallas): Bol Bol, C, Oregon
11. Minnesota: Coby White, PG, North Carolina
12. Charlotte: Rui Hachimura, SF/PF, Gonzaga
13. Miami: Romeo Langford, SF, Indiana
14. Boston (from Sacramento): Jaxson Hayes, C/PF, Texas