Bulls Insider

As Bulls opt for continuity, Bucks reload with Damian Lillard

Two years removed from Central Division playoff matchup, the gulf between teams could get wider

The Bucks' acquisition of Damian Lillard is as much about Giannis Antetokounmpo's future as this season.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

On the same day that Bulls management talked about a training camp competition to decide the starting point guard, their Central Division rivals traded one All-Star point guard for another.

The full impact on the Bulls of the Milwaukee Bucks' bold acquisition of Damian Lillard won't be fully known until Jrue Holiday's ultimate landing spot is determined. But suffice to say, the Bucks took a huge swing at appeasing superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo by trading Holiday---so instrumental to their 2021 NBA championship---to the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday.

The Bucks, with or without Holiday, were going to be a serious contender for the Eastern Conference championship, assuming decent health. So from their perspective, acquiring Lillard is as much for Antetokounmpo's future as this season.

But unless Holiday lands with the Miami Heat, this trade could have some minor positive benefits for the Bulls, who failed to exit the play-in tournament last season and are banking on continuity and the additions of Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig to help them ascend.

The Heat and Toronto Raptors both had designs on acquiring Lillard, a seven-time All-Star. Those are the teams the Bulls faced in the play-in tournament last season.

Obviously, the Heat's rally in the waning minutes to beat the Bulls helped propel them to the NBA Finals, placing them in a different tier. But the Heat lost Max Strus and Gabe Vincent from that team and now didn't land Lillard, although early speculation has them pursuing Holiday.

The Raptors---again---miss out on a potential game-changing talent via trade, which could help the Bulls' playoff chances.

This view, obviously, is small-time and short-term stuff. The Bucks are making moves to keep their franchise centerpiece and generational talent happy and chase championships, while the Bulls are merely hoping to return to the playoffs.

The Bulls report to training camp next week with the same core of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic and, again, without Lonzo Ball. He is expected to miss his second straight full season following his third left knee surgery, creating the current point guard battle between Carter, Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu.

The Bulls held preliminary conversations with the Trail Blazers in July on Lillard, though sources at that time indicated they didn't gain traction. While LaVine's future continues to land in speculation, the Bulls don't possess much draft capital and still owe the San Antonio Spurs a protected first-round pick in 2025 from the DeRozan acquisition.

The Bulls won't have to wait long to view the new iteration of these new-look Bucks. They open preseason play in Milwaukee on Oct. 8.

Following the 2021-22 season, the Bucks showed how wide the gap between the two Central Division rivals stood with a five-game, first-round playoff victory. Holiday averaged 16.4 points, 6.8 assists and 5 rebounds along with his stellar perimeter defense in that series.

Should the teams meet again in the 2024 NBA playoffs, it's notable that Lillard has averaged 25.7 points and 6.2 assists over 12 career playoff series. In a league filled with starpower, the Bucks took a big swing on Wednesday.

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