The Seventh Pick and the Five Stages of Grief

May 14th wasn’t the best day.

All day I had the intention of watching the NBA Draft Lottery with a bottle of cheap champagne on my coffee table and, when the Chicago Bulls managed to land a top two pick, I would pop open the bottle, drink maybe a quarter of it (work the next day), and dream of the possible lineup possibilities for the 2019-2020 Bulls squad. Adding Zion Williamson or Ja Morant would be huge to the team, as you either get a generational talent or a talented young point guard that the team desperately needs.

The Warming Home founder and writer Mike Leopold’s reaction:

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@chicagobulls #firegarpax #nottheirfault @zionlw10

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Of course. We didn’t even manage to land a top four pick. The Bulls managed to slip all the way down to the seventh pick which is borderline useless in what is considered to only be a three player draft (four, to some) and the New Orleans Pelicans managed to land the top pick when it’s being speculated that Anthony Davis intends to leave New Orleans. I won’t get into weird NBA conspiracy theories, but sure, it seems strange that this worked out. That being said, the league has started to take anti-tanking measures and has done more to weigh the lottery odds to give all teams a fair shot at landing a talent. This still seems pretty pointless to me, as I think it will only leave some teams being able to not compete for a longer time. If fans continue to complain about how we always see the same teams in the post-season and NBA Finals, why not do more for the teams that struggle and float around the bottom?

I digress.

I decided to practice what my therapist told me and really observe my emotions as I react to this situation and figure out WHY I feel the way I do. What I found was that as I came to terms with the Bulls having the seventh pick, I had gone through the stages of grief.

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The five stages of grief, as you heard about in your Psych 101 course

This totally makes sense though, right? Everything you hear about the five stages is that the model isn’t totally firm in order; you can start at depression then go right to denial, then be pissed off, then accept whatever happened. I think watching this all play out in real time via social media was fascinating, as you could really see people work through all of the different stages. Here is my own story and one that I feel many could relate to.

Denial:”The seventh pick goes to the Chicago Bulls”. Has anything ever cut you as deep as the audible gasps in the room, the ESPN commentators only being able to say “Wow”, and the look on Horace Grants face?


It’s just not right, and there is absolutely no way that this could have actually happened. What about the projections? I spent the better part of a lunch break simulating the Bulls draft odds and at least 30% of the time the Bulls went to the first pick, and otherwise rarely slipped past four. This is insane and there is no way that this can happen.

I think that when looking at denial as a premise, it’s important to realize that it isn’t someone being delusional enough to think that something literally didn’t happen. In film and media, we always see people begging to be pinched and wanting to wake up from whatever hell they’re now in. As I sat on my poorly assembled IKEA couch with my girlfriend, I just didn’t believe it. I literally just said “Are you joking? Are you fucking kidding?” and barely could watch the rest of the lottery.

Anger: You know what? Fuck the NBA. Fuck GarPax. Fuck Adam Silver. Fuck me for never really realizing that the lottery is literally that: a lottery.

This is the first year of NBA draft lottery reform that essentially tries to remedy tanking (essentially being trash on purpose to get a better draft pick) by spreading the odds among teams that were bad. So for the sake of example, it wouldn’t make a difference if the worst three teams had equally bad records. Hell, Team A could go 10-72, Team B could have a 30-52 record, and Team C could be 34-48 record…but they all would have equally weighted odds at the top pick in the draft lottery (14 percent each, rather than the worst team having a 25 percent chance, the second worst having 19.9 percent chance, and so on). A better explanation here:

So basically, it would have been nice if the Bulls did a better job at tanking. We had an 12.5 percent chance at the top pick, and a 37 percent chance at a top three pick. It’s kind of insane that the team managed to fall as far as they did. Equally crazy was the amount of movement in the draft, as the Cleveland Cavaliers and Phoenix Suns who, in theory, should have landed a top three picks, managed to fall to five and six.

It’s bullshit. Of course this happened in the first time in awhile that the Bulls had a decent shot at number one. Of course the Los Angeles Lakers managed to move up seven picks from where they were projected to be and land a top three pick. The rich get richer, or something.

Bargaining: This is all the NBA is, right? Come draft day, everyone’s favorite thing is to wait for Woj bombs and see which team tries to trade their pick, moving up to draft their dream rookie, or trading down to take pressure over their organization and hopefully get some extra pieces as well.

The possibility of the Bulls trying to trade down doesn’t seem crazy, right? GarPax don’t have THAT bad of a draft day history, except for when they decided to trade up to take Doug McDermott. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the team thinks “I bet someone wants this damn pick and will trade up for it”. What is stopping them from looking at a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Charlotte Hornets, or beloved second round pick fetishists the Sacramento King, and offering them the seventh pick for their pick and then a younger project piece? That would require being competent, though, which is something the Bulls front office rarely is. This is the same team that managed to take a notoriously awful contract with Otto Porter Jr., in the past decided a really great idea was to play Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, and Jimmy Butler at the same time (because who cares about decent spacing, right?), and gave Cristiano Felicio a four year $32 million contract.

Depression: Who cares anymore? Sports a cruel mistress that are blind to the weak, hobbled, and wounded. The Bulls championship window was slammed shut the moment that Derrick Rose tore his ACL against the Sixers, when the Cavaliers blew out the Bulls in game six of the 2015 NBA playoffs and Tom Thibodeau was promptly fired, and when the front office signaled it was time for a rebuild.

Rebuilding in the NBA is brutal. It’s not easy and can be painful for fans to watch. Despite the amount of Sixers fans in Philadelphia now reaping the rewards of the work of Sam Hinkie and the “trust the process” 76ers squad, it was absolutely awful basketball to watch. There were great moments like Tony Wroten looking like a competent NBA player, Nerlens Noel looking like a future defensive player of the year, and the development of Robert Covington into an outstanding three-and-D style player, but it was otherwise just awful to watch. Teams like the Orlando Magic are stuck in perpetual basketball hell as well, as they managed to just scrape by and get into the eighth seed this year with a roster that still fails to impress me in any real way.

Lauri Markkanen is a stud and perfect for the modern NBA where having a big who can drill threes is in vogue, but what beyond that? Wendell Carter Jr is still an unknown quantity who looks to have defensive prowess, Kris Dunn is a train wreck at point guard, Zach LaVine is yet another Bulls player with ACL issues, and Otto Porter Jr has a gross contract that could go into landing free agents. Porter Jr manages to fill the void that the Bulls had at small forward, though.

What exists beyond this? The Bulls bench is abysmal and I can’t see the team really succeeding in free agency. The organization is in shambles and perceived as dysfunctional by teams around the league. The Bulls look to have plenty of spots to fill in free agency this off season, but who genuinely wants to come here?

I will always love this team, but it’s hard to go out and cheer the team right now when the direction feels uncertain at best. It’s hard to trust the front office and even harder to feel optimistic at all, especially when you don’t have a top three pick in this years draft.

Acceptance: At the end of the day, none of this really matters. The Bulls will go into draft day with a prospect in mind, but will still be open to moving the pick if the price is right. This team is still young and developing, and there is no shame giving the team another year to develop without the pressure of the playoffs looming above them.

The East has only gotten stronger also, as the Milwaukee Bucks finally have a superstar in Giannis Antentokounmpo, the Toronto Raptors are on their way to the NBA Finals as I right this, and the Philadelphia 76ers continue to make post season appearance and look like legitimate threats (assuming they can somehow keep Jimmy Butler or Tobias Harris and build a damn bench). The 2020 draft could be a bountiful harvest for all I know, and the Bulls are in a position where they can try to keep acquiring young talent via the draft. By the time the rebuild enters a playoff-push phase, the East could be shaken up a bit more, especially with the possibility of the Golden State Warriors reign wrapping up, resulting in more players being willing to go westward.

Anyway, the team is a mess right now but there is still a charm to it all, I guess. Plus tickets are cheaper than ever to go to the house that Jordan built. There is an odd joy to know that the fans are cheering louder for the fourth quarter Dunkin Donuts race than the entire team.

                 Future starting point guard?


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