By Cody Westerlund–
(CBS) On draft night in June, the Bulls traded their second-round pick, No. 38 overall, to the defending champion Warriors for $3.5 million in a move that raised some eyebrows.
What was a rebuilding team doing selling off the rights to add a young player?
Back then, Bulls general manager Gar Forman explained that they weren’t enamored with any player on their draft board when their slot rolled around. That included power forward Jordan Bell, whom the Warriors selected and who has drawn rave reviews across the league as he’s become a member of the Golden State rotation. The Bulls’ belief was their power forward competition was already crowded enough with Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis being joined by Lauri Markkanen, whom the Bulls had drafted No. 7 overall just hours earlier.
There was more to it than just the Bulls’ talent evaluation, though. Executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson confirmed Thursday morning that the financial ramifications were top of mind.
“We had our board up there, and we were sitting there with Jerry and Mike (Reinsdorf) and we said, ‘Here’s five players in the second round that we really value,'” Paxson said in an interview on the Mully and Hanley Show on 670 The Score. “And when we got to that pick, those five players were gone. And you know, sometimes when you’re dealing in a situation with where you are looking ahead to the future, you have to build up some equity with decisions that you make. You look back to when we did start this rebuild, the first rebuild in 2003, one of the things Jerry did a year into the rebuild was let us use $3 million to buy the Phoenix pick where we got Luol Deng. And so at that point, Jerry at the time stepped up.”
Coincidentally, the second-round pick that the Bulls dealt the Warriors was acquired when Chicago traded Deng to Cleveland in January 2014 in a move to save money by getting below the luxury tax threshold in a season in which Derrick Rose was out for the year. In the aftermath of that trade, Paxson was quoted by the Tribune as saying, “We are confident we are going to take these resources and put them back into our team.”
One of the other two second-round picks the Bulls acquired in that Deng trade in January 2014 was sent to the Nuggets as part of the move to acquire Doug McDermott on draft night in 2014, while the the final one was used to draft forward Paul Zipser in 2016.
“Sometimes you have to take a opportunity where you build equity within the organization for future decisions,” Paxson said in further explaining the sale of the Bell pick. “Because we didn’t have someone on that board that we were really enamored with and that we thought positionally fit — you know, we just drafted Lauri Markkanen at the power forward and Jordan Bell is a small-ish power forward and we had Niko and Bobby.’
“It was a roster spot we knew we could use in a different way, and it was something we thought, ‘Hey, down the road, there will be a time and place where we can use money to our advantage.’ And that’s really what it came down to.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.