Life used to be so simple for Bulls general manager John Paxson during NBA draft week.
Back when his team was in a rebuilding mode, Paxson could set his sights on the best Final Four player available and be fairly confident it would be a step forward. It was a rather simple formula, really, but as first-rounders Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng and Tyrus Thomas indicate, it was a mostly successful one.
Now that the Bulls have won a playoff series for the first time in nine years, expectations have changed, as well as their draft position. Tonight, they are scheduled to have the No. 9 pick, the first time they won't have a selection among the top seven since the 1998 draft.
"Obviously, the ninth pick is the furthest down we've had in the last four years when we've had a draft pick," said Paxson, whose team did not have a selection in the 2005 draft. "It presents its own set of challenges. The field is a little more open and there are different guys to consider."
In recent weeks, the fundamental question that Paxson and his staff have discussed at length is: Do they draft for the present or the future?
"Ideally, we'd like to find a guy who can contribute (immediately)," Paxson said. "That would be the perfect scenario. That's a question we debate all the time.
"I don't think it's a necessity, because if there's not a guy there who will give you 25 minutes (per game) next season, but there's a guy on the board you like ... I'm confident that, that if we took a guy who won't give us 20 or 25 minutes (per game) next season, he'll get better as a player here."
Here are the Bulls' options:
If the Bulls stay at No. 9 overall, they will probably pick and choose from any of five candidates still on the board: power forwards Jeff Green (Georgetown), Yi Jianlian (China) and Joakim Noah (Florida), small forward Corey Brewer (Forida) and center Spencer Hawes (Washington).
Among the group, Hawes and Noah are most likely to be available, according to a number of draft projections.
"A lot of it comes down to position, experience and how ready certain guys are," Paxson said of the thought process.
While none of the five has the kind of inside game the offense needs at present, each has assets that could prove valuable at some point.
Brewer and Yi have range and athleticism, Green and Noah offer size and championship experience, and Hawes packs size and an effective midrange game.
Yi is widely considered to have the most star potential of the group. At the same time, the China import may have the most difficult transition period ahead of him.
"The issues with him are, he didn't play against great competition in the Chinese Basketball Association," Paxson said. "But he's a 7-footer who runs the floor as well as any big guy around and can shoot the ball."
Trade down in the order
The consensus seems to be there isn't a significant difference in talent levels from the fifth to 20th picks in the order.
The Phoenix Suns (No. 29) and Philadelphia 76ers (Nos. 12, 21 and 30) would like to improve their draft positions.
"I do expect situations that, as teams get closer (to the draft), they may want to get in the top 10 or 12 (in the order) and maybe something will happen," Paxson said. "At this point, it hasn't presented itself -- not anything of substance -- but it could happen."
As for a move upward, Paxson all but ruled it out.
"I don't see it. I really don't," Paxson said. "We would have to give up something very significant, and the players you would do that for are not available in this draft."
Stockpile talent to trade later
As Paxson put it, "We all look for talent in the draft. Maybe (the pick) is something we can use to get a player at a position of need."
In one scenario, the front office could select one of the many gifted small forwards available, even though Luol Deng figures to be a fixture at the position for years. Then it could parlay the draft pick in a deal for an inside scorer such as Pau Gasol or Zach Randolph after July 1, which is the start of the free-agent period.
The Memphis Grizzlies appear content to build around Gasol for now, while the Trail Blazers have scared off any suitors for Randolph because of their exorbitant trade demands, according to published reports.
But Paxson knows that can change with one long-distance phone call.
"I do expect this summer to be a little more active than in the past," Paxson said. "For (tonight), I don't know, but we all want to get better."
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