Artūras Karnišovas

Artūras Karnišovas helped build NBA-best Nuggets, now faces Bulls' work

The executive vice president, who left Denver three years ago, must get creative again in Chicago

Artūras Karnišovas, pictured from his Nuggets' stint, now runs the Bulls

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Denver Nuggets won their first NBA championship in franchise history Monday night, defeating the Miami Heat in five games.

The victory came on the 32nd anniversary of the Chicago Bulls’ first championship and three years and two months after Michael and Jerry Reinsdorf hired Artūras Karnišovas away from the Nuggets to replace John Paxson.

At Karnišovas’ April 2020 introductory news conference, held on Zoom in the early throes of the global pandemic, he said this as he moved from the No. 2 role under then-Nuggets president Tim Connelly to run basketball operations for the Bulls.

“Chicago is a great sports town, with a long, robust sports history. The city is made up of very passionate fans. Earning the enthusiasm and excitement back from the fans for the Chicago Bulls is both a challenge and something I very much look forward to. These fans deserve a team that they can be proud of, and my objective is to get us back to relevancy.

“This is my dream. Our ultimate goal is to bring an NBA championship to the city of Chicago.”

One had to wonder the myriad emotions that Karnišovas---and, on a less local level, Connelly, who has since moved on to run the Minnesota Timberwolves-- experienced as he watched the Nuggets win it all.

On the one hand, Karnišovas played a significant role in the Nuggets’ draft process that landed superstars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, as well as starter Michael Porter Jr. Both Jokic and Murray talked about their relationships with Karnišovas and wished him well when he left for the Bulls.

On the other hand, Karnišovas to this point has emerged on a different team-building philosophy with the Bulls.

Though first-round picks Patrick Williams and Dalen Terry could achieve the long-term stability that some of the Nuggets’ core pieces have enjoyed, Karnišovas traded three first-round picks to aggressively overhaul the roster and land veterans in Nikola Vucevic and DeMar DeRozan. Only Zach LaVine and Coby White remain from the team he inherited. And White is poised to hit restricted free agency in July, although Karnišovas has stated his desire to re-sign White.

Karnišovas’ initial, aggressive moves achieved his first publicly stated goal---returning the Bulls to relevancy. The 2021-22 Bulls earned the franchise’s first playoff berth in five years. And throughout the first half of that season, the Bulls led the Eastern Conference and played an entertaining style that jazzed a raucous United Center.

Since the Bulls’ first-round exit to the Milwaukee Bucks in 2022, though, the path to opening a championship window has grown rocky. Lonzo Ball, such a critical piece to Karnišovas’ vision, hasn’t played since January 2022. Ball’s three knee surgeries since then have placed his career in jeopardy.

Currently, the Bulls own no picks in next week’s NBA Draft. And with the franchise’s history of only paying the luxury tax once and ownership saying it only will do so again for a championship contender, Karnišovas must get creative this offseason for the Bulls to improve.

The Nuggets currently sit on top of the NBA world. The Bulls face a long uphill climb to try to get there.

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