Damian Lillard’s Injury Has Unfortunate Draft Implications for the Chicago Bulls

The Portland Trail Blazers already looked like a team that would struggle to make the playoffs this season. Without Damian Lillard, the Blazers could enter into full-blown tank mode. That’s bad news for the Chicago Bulls and their future NBA draft capital.

Heading into 2022, the Blazers ranked among the most desperate teams in the NBA. However, Portland probably has more clarity with Lillard sidelined for the foreseeable future. Instead, the Bulls stand to lose the most in the form of draft capital.

Damian Lillard is expected to undergo abdominal surgery and could miss up to eight weeks

Damian Lillard’s early-season struggles might have an explanation.

Lillard performed well below his usual standards through 29 games, averaging 24.0 points on 40.2% shooting from the field and an underwhelming 32.4% mark from beyond the arc. An abdominal issue that cost him multiple games at the beginning of December appeared to explain some of Dame’s struggles.

Indeed, that injury is lingering. After returning to the rotation on Dec. 12, Lillard missed Portland’s last five games with the same designation. He’s going to miss plenty more, with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports among those to report Lillard is undergoing surgery and could miss up to eight weeks.

The Blazers are the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference. But the latest Lillard news all but guarantees Portland will trade veterans like Robert Covington and perhaps Jusuf Nurkic so as to attain future value. Perhaps a CJ McCollum deal is even in the cards.

Regardless, Lillard’s prolonged absence could result in Portland falling out of the playoff picture. That, in turn, could impact a Chicago Bulls first-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.

The Bulls own Portland’s first-round draft pick, but it’s lottery-protected

Lillard’s injury has an indirect impact on the Chicago Bulls.

The Bulls conceded a lot of NBA draft picks to bring Nikola Vucevic to Chicago ahead of last season’s trade deadline and gave up even more in a sign-and-trade for DeMar DeRozan. However, the Bulls got some semblance of capital back in the Lauri Markkanen sign-and-trade.

Chicago sent Markkanen to the Cavaliers, with Larry Nance Jr. — whom the Bulls might consider targeting ahead of the trade deadline — going from Cleveland to Portland. The Blazers, meanwhile, traded swingman Derrick Jones Jr. and a 2022 first-round pick to the Bulls. But there’s a caveat.

The first-rounder Portland sent to Chicago has lottery protections. Thus, if the Blazers miss the playoffs, the pick will not convey to the Bulls.

Considering Portland’s current standing and Lillard’s timetable for recovery, it’s likely the Blazers will not play postseason basketball. That would mean the Bulls would have just one first-round pick in the NBA draft instead of two.

Future implications exist as well. Indeed, Lillard might have even more interconnectedness with Chicago’s future draft picks beyond 2022.

Lillard’s future in Portland could determine whether the first-round pick ever conveys to the Bulls

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard looks on before an NBA game against the Miami Heat
Damian Lillard talks with interim general manager Joe Cronin before a game against the Miami Heat on January 05, 2022 | Soobum Im/Getty Images

Damian Lillard has yet to suggest he wants out of Portland. Still, the Blazers are sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place, and the emergence of Anfernee Simons could ultimately prompt the team to act.

A potential Lillard departure could shape whether the first-round pick acquired by the Bulls in the Markannen sign-and-trade ever conveys to them.

The pick is lottery-protected every single year through 2028. If it doesn’t convey by then, Portland owes Chicago a 2028 second-round pick. If the Blazers decide to trade Lillard and rebuild, it could be some time before they escape the lottery.

The Bulls have two first-round picks (their selections in 2022 and 2024) through 2026. Chicago would undoubtedly love to eventually get more capital from Portland if the pick were to convey. Ultimately, that could depend on Lillard.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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