Toronto's title shows how Bulls can make a bold move that works in the NBA

  • The Toronto Raptors' bold trade to bring in Kawhi Leonard resulted in an NBA championship last week.

    The Toronto Raptors' bold trade to bring in Kawhi Leonard resulted in an NBA championship last week. Associated Press

Updated 6/18/2019 4:51 PM

When Kawhi Leonard ended the Raptors' championship rally by recreating his infamous laugh, it also punctuated the path to winning an NBA title.

Last summer, Toronto pulled off a risky, blockbuster trade to get Leonard from San Antonio and ended up laughing all the way to mid-June. The lesson here is, teams need to be ready to make that bold move when opportunity knocks.


That's pretty much where the Bulls are today, waiting for their chance to make a deal that turns them into a playoff team. They might get a chance this summer, they might not. Doing nothing would be preferable to making the wrong move.

There are essentially three ways to build a Finals contender in the NBA. One is through lottery luck, which the Bulls haven't had since the Derrick Rose draft in 2008. Another way is to hit big on a low draft pick, which they haven't done since choosing Jimmy Butler at No. 30 in 2011.

Smart drafting was a popular theme this season, with players such as Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Draymond Green, Kris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon -- all second-rounders or not drafted -- going deep into the playoffs. The Bulls have another chance to achieve a second-round win with the 38th overall pick in Thursday's NBA Draft.

And the Bulls need to hit with their first-round selection. Toronto didn't have any lottery picks on its championship roster, but swapped a couple of their top-10 choices, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas, for guys who had a proven history of success, Leonard and Marc Gasol.

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The bold move is a ploy any team can use, but it does help to be winning games and moving in the right direction, something the Bulls lack right now. Before Leonard, the best example was Houston trading for future MVP James Harden in a deal that amounts to highway robbery in retrospect.

Of course, there's no guarantee any trade will work out. If Leonard's Game 7 corner shot bounced off the rim and Toronto lost to Philadelphia in overtime, the Raptors would be ruing the DeRozan trade if Leonard bolts for the Los Angeles Clippers.

Most of the recent draft buzz has focused on Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland. According to ESPN, Garland organized a last-minute workout for the Knicks and is suddenly in play with the No. 3 pick.

Now that New Orleans has the No. 4 pick from the Lakers, there's been talk of the Pelicans offering it to the Bulls, looking for next year's first-rounder to swap slots. Dallas made this move last season, sending this year's No. 10 pick to Atlanta in order to move up and select Luka Doncic.


Bulls VP John Paxson said last year he was not willing to give up a future first-rounder to move up a few slots. The Bulls stuck with No. 7 and chose Wendell Carter Jr.

If Garland or R.J. Barrett turns out to be a future superstar, then trading up would be the correct move. No one knows for sure how either of those players will turn out, so the Bulls need to feel very confident to make this trade.

The Bulls could trade their pick for a veteran, in theory, who could help push them toward the playoffs. That option also has a chance to blow up. Adding a player like Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday, who has an expensive contract, could make it more difficult for the Bulls to execute future trades, or impossible to sign that meaningful free agent they may need down the road.

The Bulls may have some favorites in this draft who will be gone by pick No. 7. There's been talk about trading down, perhaps with Atlanta for No. 10 and 17. Or they could just make their best pick, bide their time and hope for some growth next season.

The Bulls had more of a sure thing in Butler, but chose to rebuild instead. Now they just need to stay patient if necessary and be ready to commit to that bold move when the times arrives. And most importantly, don't be wrong.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls


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