Artūras Karnišovas

Bulls' Artūras Karnišovas vows to make changes

For first time publicly, executive vice president of basketball operations admits continuity plan failed

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Accountability and action.

Those are the biggest takeaways from Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas’ season-ending news conference on Saturday afternoon at the Advocate Center.

Granted, the first theme is just talk and the latter vow means little unless change actually is enacted.

But for the first time ever, Karnišovas publicly said his plan for continuity failed and that changes are coming.

“I’ve said numerous times today: This group, something doesn’t work. I have to find ways to find a group that’s going to make improvements. We’ve done it for a couple years now and it hasn’t worked,” Karnišovas said. “Everything is on the table.

“I am going to look at totality of the group. This group hasn’t worked. There’s a lot of great things in certain individual players and a lot of young guys who took a step forward and it’s positive. But in totality as a group, it didn’t work. So I’m going to have to find these answers in offseason.”

Whether those changes are widespread and perhaps not merely limited to the roster remains to be seen. While Karnišovas emphasized that his front office staff as well as coach Billy Donovan are safe, the future of Donovan’s staff is open for discussion.

Regardless, it sounds like continuity will be replaced by another word that begins with a “c.” Change.

“I take full responsibility, however, and recognize when changes need to be made, and I believe that time is now,” Karnišovas said.

Multiple outlets, including NBC Sports Chicago, reported previously that trading Zach LaVine remains an offseason focus. Karnišovas reiterated his desire to re-sign DeMar DeRozan and Patrick Williams.

A source said the Bulls recently offered DeRozan’s representative a two-year deal at a high annual salary, perhaps as much as $40 million per season. For now, DeRozan is seeking a longer-term deal, but that merely be part of negotiations.

“DeMar’s been great for us for three years,” Karnišovas said. “He’s been invested in the city of Chicago and has been really great to our young guys. So both sides are interested in continuing and we’ll see what happens in free agency.”

Here’s more from Karnišovas, with analysis after each pertinent comment:

Opening statement: “It goes without saying that the conclusion of the season fell short of expectations regardless of injury status. Any season where we don’t end deep into the postseason requires close examination, which has already begun. I can talk about all of our players through a positive lens, but in totality as a team we didn’t meet expectations. We’re not here for the play-in. It’s a team game and we have to make changes to fix things. I take full responsibility for where we are right now. I know that our fans aren’t satisfied with where we finished the season and neither am I. I want to thank our fans for their tieless support and energy throughout the season. We have the best fans in the NBA and we are truly grateful for all of you. In this business, you win or you learn. So while I can be happy with some growth and learning this year, I won’t be satisfied until we bring a championship to the city of Chicago. That’s why I was hired, that’s why I am here, and my mission remains unchanged.”

Analysis: This is the first time in awhile that Karnišovas has referenced the championship expectations he touted upon his hiring. That’s a good thing, even if the Bulls are far away from that level. After a trade deadline news conference in which remaining competitive was the main theme, this messaging reminds a weary fan base of higher standards.

On his plan to extricate the Bulls from mediocrity if his publicly stated stance that a rebuild is off the table remains the same: “Analysis will start right now and go into free agency. I think we’re going to be pretty aggressive, the way we showed before, going into the draft and free agency. We obviously can’t roll (out) the same team again and expect different results. We definitely understand that even with some of the positivity with the clutch wins and overtime wins, we’re still at 39 (wins) and at the play-in. We have to somehow generate an additional 10 wins. Even with injuries we suffered this year, we need to change things.”

Analysis: Notice that Karnišovas didn’t fully rule out a rebuild, although that isn’t his first priority or plan. He also referenced being aggressive before, which is a nod to August 2021 when he and his staff orchestrated sign-and-trade acquisitions of DeRozan and Lonzo Ball and signed Alex Caruso in free agency. While nobody is expecting such a dramatic facelift this offseason, it’s clear Karnišovas is ready to change the roster.

On Lonzo Ball: “We’re just going to wait and see his progression the next couple months. He’s progressing well. Everything is looking with no setbacks.”

Analysis: Karnišovas largely dodged a question about how to juggle the human and business sides of this situation. On the human side, everyone is rooting for Ball to make an almost unprecedented return from a cartilage transplant in his knee after a two-year-plus absence. On the business side, the Bulls would get $21 million of luxury tax and salary cap relief if Ball can’t return and his knee injury is deemed career-ending by an independent doctor.

On if his job is safe: “I gotta do my job better. It's my responsibility. This program is my responsibility. Jerry and Michael (Reinsdorf) have been really supportive. Obviously, their expectation is better results. That's why diving into this off-season, I put an emphasis on turning this program around.”

Analysis: Jerry Krause lasted 18 years. John Paxson lasted 17 years. Management change doesn’t happen quickly in this organization, and Karnišovas recently signed an extension. That said, ownership has made clear to management that it wants matters turned around.

On being aggressive within confines of franchise’s history of avoiding the luxury tax: “I think we can be creative. We’ve been creative in the past and going into this offseason, basically everything is on the table. So we are going to look at everything. . . . My approach looking at the luxury tax is if you can prove that your team is going to be in the top-four, you go in the luxury tax. It just makes no sense to be in play-in if you’re going to be in the luxury tax. As long as I can put a team together that is going to be competing top-four in the East, that’s when you start look at retaining guys and go in the luxury tax. That’s my approach.”

Analysis: If the Bulls can’t trade LaVine and re-sign DeRozan and Williams, they’ll begin the 2024-25 season in the luxury tax. The tax isn’t assessed until season’s end. Projecting a play-in team as a tax team only further emphasizes the focus on trying to trade LaVine, who has three years and $138 million remaining on his deal.

On Donovan: “I like what Billy has done here the last four years. Billy is someone you build a program with. He’s a very good coach and even a better human being. We established a winning expectation, we defined a profile for the Bulls player and we put an emphasis on player development. It is also on me to facilitate Billy with the resources he needs to build a team that can be successful consistently.”

Analysis: Donovan recently made clear he wasn’t interested in a return to one of the premier jobs in the college game at Kentucky and signed an extension. He’s respected and appreciated by both management and ownership. He’s going nowhere.

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