The San Antonio Spurs have managed to amass a stockpile of picks over the past season, including the Chicago Bulls' 2025 first-round pick. That selection could prove to be a valuable future asset for the Spurs, and they could help ensure that it becomes a lottery pick.
Actually, it wouldn't be hard to do since the Bulls are built to win now and have traded away a lot of assets to build their team. That means their window to compete is short and it could slam shut this summer if one of their best players were to leave. Basically, they're the basketball equivalent of Jenga and the Spurs could help topple them with a bit of sabotage. Let's see how.
The Spurs may have already begun their sabotage of the Bulls ahead of the trade deadline when they tried to acquire Jakob Poeltl. The Spurs were open to trading Poeltl and were reportedly looking for a first-round pick and a good player in return.
The Bulls did offer a first, which would turn out to be the 18th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, but no dice. The Spurs declined the deal, partly because they still needed Poeltl, but I suspect there might be more to it.
The Spurs were probably never actually going to deal him to the Bulls unless they offered a bundle for him, which they couldn't because they are asset-broke. The reason is that the Spurs have an incentive to see them get worse, not better. If the Bulls had acquired Poeltl, they probably would have finished the regular season with more than 46 wins and gotten a higher seed.
The Spurs could take away a foundational piece
That would've increased their chances at a deep playoff run, and possibly keeping All-Star Zach LaVine. Instead, they lost in the first round and one of their best players has stated he'll have an open approach to free agency. Step one complete. The next step involves the Spurs clearing out max cap space and signing him away from the Bulls.
Unfortunately, recent reports suggest LaVine is likely to stay put in Chicago, but players have changed their minds in the past before, as San Antonio learned with Marcus Morris.
Poaching LaVine would serve two purposes: the Spurs would add another All-Star in their mid-twenties who could help them regain their status as an annual playoff team, and his signing would weaken the Bulls. After LaVine, the Bulls' next best player would be former Spur DeMar DeRozan. At 32, he had one of his best seasons but may start to decline soon.
Even with former All-Star Nikola Vucivic playing a bigger role, they'd probably still only be a seventh or eighth seed, maybe even just a play-in team. Worse yet, they have few trade assets and fewer picks to add talent, partly due to the future first they owe the Spurs. It's top-10 protected in 2025 and top-eight protected in 2026 and 2027, meaning that they can only trade their 2029 first-round pick.
Even if that selection is likely to convey in 2025, the Bulls can't actually deal their 2027 first until it officially does because of the Stepien Rule. That keeps teams from trading picks in back-to-back years, and while it's unlikely that the Spurs took that into account in negotiating protections, it definitely limits the Bulls.
The Spurs and Bulls could start moving in opposite directions
Contrast the Bulls' situation with the Spurs, who are on the rise. They have an All-Star in Dejounte Murray, a player who appears to be on his way to becoming a star in Keldon Johnson, and two recent lottery picks who could make big leaps soon. They also have a top 10 pick in this year's draft, all of which could appeal to a big-name free agent.
There could be several players that they target, including Deandre Ayton and Collin Sexton, but signing LaVine comes with the added bonus of lowering the Bulls' ceiling. Adding him could also keep Murray happy because he and LaVine are close, hopefully making re-signing Murray easier.
More importantly, LaVine could help make the team relevant again, and there's even a path there for the Spurs to contend if Johnson becomes a star.
If everything goes well, by the time the Bulls' pick is due, the Spurs could be contending for a championship and in a position to add a lottery pick. That doesn't normally occur, but the Bulls' pick gives them that opportunity, and the Spurs can help guarantee that happens by sabotaging them whenever possible.