CHICAGO – It’s been five years since the Bulls hit the jackpot in the lottery and used the golden ticket to grab Derrick Rose with the No. 1 pick.
Odds are they won’t land a franchise cornerstone this time. A key contributor could be in reach, though.
The Bulls hold the 20th pick in the draft Thursday, and with their superstar poised to return next season, there are several ways they could go as they try to re-establish themselves as a contender in the Eastern Conference after a 45-win season.
Another big man would help. So would a shooter.
A trade is a possibility, too, with the Bulls also holding the 49th overall pick, but gaging which way the Bulls are leaning is not easy. For the second straight year, they closed all draft workouts to the media and general manager Gar Forman did not make himself available to reporters. He declined comment for this story.
This much is certain, though. The Bulls need to hit on this pick, particularly given their payroll situation.
They have no cap room and are above the expected luxury-tax threshold. They owe core players Rose, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah nearly $60 million next season, meaning any additions they make will have to come on the cheap and adding a rotation player in the draft is key.
The good news for the Bulls is they’ve had some success with lower first-round picks in recent years, whether it was Taj Gibson at No. 26 in 2009 or Jimmy Butler at No. 30 in 2011. Marquis Teague also showed some promise after being taken with the 29th pick a year ago, although the jury still is out on him.
Whichever way they go, the Bulls have options.
Between the loss of Omer Asik as a free agent last offseason, Noah’s issues with plantar fasciitis in his right foot and veteran Nazr Mohammed’s expiring contract, the Bulls could use another big body to help in the trenches.
If they decide to go that route, one option could be Gorgui Dieng of Louisville. The 6-foot-11 center averaged 9.4 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, helping the Cardinals win the NCAA title, and could give the Bulls another stopper in the lane to go with Noah.
Then again, there also are issues on the perimeter. It still remains to be seen just how explosive Rose will be after sitting out the season while recovering from torn ACL in his left knee, and the Bulls’ outside shooting is a question mark at the moment.
The Bulls shot just better than 35 percent on 3-pointers and ranked 21st in the league, and there’s a chance Marco Belinelli lands a bigger offer from another team and leaves as a free agent. The streaky Nate Robinson also is a good candidate to sign elsewhere given the return of Rose and the presence of Teague and Kirk Hinrich.
The Bulls also could use someone who could create his own shot. If they decide to go for help on the perimeter, Jamaal Franklin of San Diego State might be a possibility at No. 20. He is athletic and relentless on defense and the glass and has drawn comparisons to former Aztec Kawhi Leonard for those reasons and the fact that are questions about his shot.
Leonard has developed into a reliable shooter, going 37.5 percent on 3-pointers in two seasons with San Antonio.
There aren’t many questions about Allen Crabbe’s jumper. The 6-6 junior from California averaged 18.4 points and shot just less than 35 percent from 3-point range after hitting 40 percent the previous two seasons. He’s been compared to Richard Hamilton for the way he uses screens and curls to find openings in the defense, and it just so happens that the Bulls almost certainly will exercise their $1 million buyout on the veteran guard if they can’t trade him.
Another possibility could be Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr., who has the pedigree as the son of a former NBA star. But he also is considered a borderline first-round pick.