Discussing Bulls' NBA Draft, Lonzo Ball and free agency plans

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Bulls mailbag: Who's the pick at 38? Is Lonzo Ball a target? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Thursday’s NBA draft begins a busy stretch for the Chicago Bulls, who likely will look significantly different once August’s free agency ends.

Perhaps that’s why you have so many questions.

Who do you think the Bulls will take with the 38th pick during Thursday’s draft? --- Hamza B.

I’m going to go with “best player available.” And for good measure, management won’t be able to believe if he was available there.

But I digress.

I could be wrong here, which is why I’m a beat writer and not a general manager. But I think when you’re picking at this number, you can aim more for need than best talent or player available.

The Bulls’ needs are large. So obviously, they could go in a lot of directions. But I think they go wing here. It certainly sounds like they plan to address guard via trade or free agency in August. Backup big men always seem to be available, and Marko Simonović is expected to be on next season’s roster. So a wing selection seems most prudent.

RELATED: 2021 NBA Mock Draft roundup: Bulls targets with 38th pick

Now that New Orleans has created more cap space to re-sign Lonzo Ball or Kyle Lowry, where do you think the Bulls go next for point guard help if Ball is retained? Does the chance for a Derrick Rose reunion happening increase? --- Emir M

Rose is on the list. But so are several names, including Dennis Schröder, Jalen Brunson and likely others. From what I’ve been able to gather, it sounds like the Bulls are casting a wide net in the run-up to free agency so that they’re not left with nothing when the game of musical chairs stops.

Like all franchises, they’ve worked contacts to get a feel for the financial landscape. They’ve explored what it might take to pry Brunson loose from the Mavericks since he would have to be acquired via trade. They’ve talked internally about the fit of Rose.

As for Ball, most people I talked to expect the Pelicans to use their newfound financial flexibility to make a run at Kyle Lowry. Remember, as a restricted free agent, Ball’s rights are owned by the Pelicans, who can exceed the cap to retain him. But if they strike out on Lowry, retaining an offer sheet for Ball certainly is more financially palatable now.

If AKME keeps things so close to the vest, how is all this current Bulls info getting out? --- Tim K.

You mean, the info where the Bulls are rumored to be interested in — deep breath here — Lonzo Ball, Schröder, DeMar DeRozan and some others I forget? This is rumor season, filled with plenty of people and plenty of agendas. As I said previously, the Bulls are casting a wide net.

But think about it: From his hire of Donovan to his signing of Garrett Temple to his acquisition of Nikola Vučević, most of Artūras Karnišovas’ moves have come quickly and without much speculation surrounding them. He knows his plan and the truth. Plenty of the noise is just that.

I'm starting to gravitate to the scenario in which Dejounte Murray is on our roster instead of Lonzo Ball. Though I know the situation is just as hard, if not harder, than obtaining Lonzo, what are your thoughts? Could Lauri & Sato S&T get that done? Otherwise, not sure if it'd be as plausible because I don't think SAS takes the trade straight up, Dejounte for Lauri. --- Javonte A.

To this point, I haven’t been able to nail down much in terms of reporting on Murray. I’ve seen the rumor. He’s a nice player. There has been some talk around the league that the Spurs will be one team kicking the tires on Markkanen in restricted free agency.

Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević are stars. Billy Donovan is clearly the man for the job. We (likely) have an established point guard on the way. Are the Bulls in a playoffs-or-bust situation in the weak Eastern Conference? Or are we in another “temper the expectations” situation? I’m ready for some playoff basketball in Chicago! --- Trevor B.

It certainly sounds like it by your use of pronouns and overall excitement. Go team!

I don’t see anybody losing their job if the Bulls don’t make the playoffs. So define “playoffs or bust.” That said, it would be failure if they don’t. You don’t go trading two first-round picks for a 30-year-old center to miss the playoffs. Doing so once can be perhaps justified by the chaotic nature to last season and LaVine and Vučević not having a full year together.

That reasoning doesn’t exist next season. Combine that with the fact management has the ability to significantly re-shape the roster this offseason and it’s time.

What trades/signings would help the Bulls not only make the playoffs but possibly make a deeper run in the playoffs than people might think? --- Alexis G.

Chris Paul. Kawhi Leonard. If they opt out. But you know, everybody’s got jokes.

They need a facilitator and organizer who is a two-way player. Everybody on the roster would improve with that. I think Ball fits, even if he’s not a true point guard. But at what cost? I posited that theory in a column earlier this week. This isn’t just a financial decision either, but one that would involve sacrificing productive players to create cap space.

How likely do you think Marko Simonović will get playing time going forward given his play style similarities with Lauri Markannen? --- Kahlei S.

If Markkanen is back — which is a big if — that would impact Simonović's role. But his playing time is up to him. The Bulls didn’t draft him and bring him over for him not to be a rotation player. He’s got to run with the opportunity.

It seems like everybody is obsessed with the point guard position and rightfully so. What would it take to acquire a Shai Gilgeous-Alexander? I think he would fit perfectly next to Zach. Also there seems to be a need for a “3-and-D” small forward as well. Any current free agent suggestions that would fit well with our core to grow with them? --- Vinod G.

The Thunder would ask for LaVine, for sure. Past that, Patrick Williams and draft capital would be needed and that still seems light. The Bulls sent most of their draft capital to the Magic in the Vučević trade. So I don’t see SGA landing in Chicago.

As for “3-and-D” wings: The Bulls aren’t going to be flush with cap space. Either they operate as over-the-cap team and utilize exceptions or they clear out space to make a run at Ball or Schröder or re-negotiate and extend LaVine. That won’t leave a lot of leftover money. Reggie Bullock do anything for you? Nic Batum after his resurgent season?

As I said, the Bulls have a lot of holes, though I do think Troy Brown Jr. gets a massive opportunity this season.

Both Arturas and Marc Eversley noted when they were hired that they were going to build up the player development side of the Bulls organization. Have you been able to notice any difference in whatever it is they did? I know it may be hard to see because of COVID but I’m trying to get a sense of how much difference that makes. --- Alejandro Y.

They built out the department. Donovan talked about the luxury and ingenuity in Karnišovas hiring former players to help as practice bodies when needed. That proved fortuitous in the chaotic season that last season created for all teams.

You certainly could quibble with some of the player development results on last season’s roster. But it’s Year 1 of the new regime. It remains an emphasis.

What we can expect from Zach LaVine next season? --- Kacper G.

You can expect whatever you wish. I expect an improved defensive player who learns to score some off easier transition opportunities rather than relying on having another season of near-historic offensive efficiency.

LaVine, who is in great shape, also talked about working to get in even better condition to play at a high level at both ends for longer. He talked about finally understanding how much energy needs to be expelled to impact multiple positions at both ends. LaVine is a huge Michael Jordan fan and that’s a prime example of a player who didn’t take off many possessions.

Long time, long distance Bulls fan here from across the pond in England. I heard you mention on the Bulls Talk Podcast that for cap reasons, AKME could let Lauri walk away for nothing to make way for future moves. If we don't sign Lauri, and can't get anything in return, is it a bit of a blunder from the front office? With no draft capital and limited trade options, don't the Bulls need to get a return for every asset they have? --- Simon B.

I wrote about this very risk when the two sides couldn’t reach agreement on an extension before last season. That said, management certainly tried to turn Markkanen into an asset with its pursuit of Ball at the trade deadline. Sign-and-trades are difficult to execute. They take cooperation from multiple parties. But your point is a good one.

I loved the way Daniel Theis played for the Bulls last year. Any chance we resign him? --- Julian O.

There’s more than a chance because the Bulls own his Bird rights and thus can exceed the salary cap to re-sign him. That said, I’ve written that several teams are expected to pursue him at a decent price tag. I’ve heard Charlotte could have interest. This week, the Rockets popped up as another potential suitor. I’ve heard mixed signals on how much of a fit this regime believes he is.

That said, if he does leave, you need rim protection alongside Vučević. So add that to the shopping list.

Thanks for all the questions. Talk to you soon.

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