Trae Young, Luka Dončić reminding Bulls what might have been

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How Young, Dončić's success reminds Bulls what might've been originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

With every Luka Dončić stepback 3-pointer or each Trae Young darting drive and floater, the mind drifted — especially with Wendell Carter Jr. now with the Orlando Magic.

What if the 2018 NBA Draft had played out differently for the Chicago Bulls? What if lottery luck graced them as it did 10 years earlier, gifting them Derrick Rose?

You remember: Not only did the Bulls drop from sixth to seventh to ultimately draft Carter, the Sacramento Kings, who lost a pre-lottery tiebreaker to the Bulls, vaulted from seventh to second to draft Marvin Bagley III.

So it always could be worse. The Kings seemingly are perennial reminders of that.

And there’s no guarantee that the Bulls, who engaged in trade talks to move up in the draft, wouldn’t have targeted Jaren Jackson Jr. given his projected fit with then-cornerstone Lauri Markkanen and an internal debate on Dončić.

But the point is: The full rebuild undertaken by the previous year’s trade of Jimmy Butler stood in its infancy at the time. And landing a transcendent talent like Dončić or Young could have accelerated an exit.

Young said all the right things after his predraft workout at the Advocate Center, calling fellow Oklahoma star Stacey King a legend, praising then-coach Fred Hoiberg’s drills and closing with this: “I don’t think there’s anybody like me in the draft.”

Give him high marks for perspective and prescience.

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So let’s play this out: Let’s say the Bulls exited the 2018 draft with one of Young or Dončić. Young is the more likely hypothetical given that the Dallas Mavericks so aggressively targeted Dončić that they traded Young’s draft rights and a first-round pick that turned into Cam Reddish for Dončić's draft rights.

Given the way the previous managerial regime valued first-round picks, that offer could have been hard to pass. Plus, even with Kris Dunn then on the roster, the Bulls debated Carter and Collin Sexton deep into draft night for the seventh pick. So they liked the idea of a scoring facilitator.

In this alternate timeline, the 2018-19 Bulls would’ve featured a likely starting five of Young, Zach LaVine, Markkanen, Robin Lopez and some wing from Chandler Hutchison, Justin Holiday, Jabari Parker or Otto Porter Jr. the latter two serving as principals in a February swap. Perhaps Dunn would have slid to shooting guard and LaVine to small forward in a smaller lineup.

Assuming Young’s presence wouldn’t have extracted the Bulls from the lottery, the selection of Coby White wouldn’t have happened in 2019. The Bulls painfully slipped from fourth to seventh in that draft lottery.

Jaxson Hayes and De’Andre Hunter top the list of potential draft targets not named White that year.

The Atlanta Hawks jumped from 20-47 in 2019-20 2.5 games worse than the Bulls to 41-31 this season by surrounding Young with shooting and depth. Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanović and even Tony Snell in a smaller role keep driving lanes open and defenses honest. Holdover Kevin Huerter does the same. Clint Capela, Solomon Hill and John Collins add toughness and defense.

But Young is the engine that makes it all go, just as Dončić is with a Mavericks franchise that needs a facelift because Kristaps Porzingis has become a role player on a max contract. Still, both players are reminders of what might have been.

We’ll save Michael Porter Jr. and questions about his back history making him drop to No. 14 in that 2018 draft for another day.

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