Artūras Karnišovas

Trade returns, not won-loss record, will define Bulls' lost season

With roster change expected and a 4-game deficit in play-in picture, focus should shift

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Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

The Chicago Bulls received a gift of sorts when the final two games of their 82-game schedule were set overnight Wednesday.

Thanks to an 0-4 showing in the inaugural In-Season Tournament, the Bulls joined the land of losers, drawing one home and one road game against other non-qualifiers.

They’ll play the Charlotte Hornets, who are without star guard LaMelo Ball, at the United Center on Dec. 6. Then they’ll travel to San Antonio to face Victor Wembanyama and the Spurs on Dec. 8.

Although the Bulls currently can’t point to any game on their schedule as a winnable one on paper, these at least offer opportunity.

It doesn’t matter. This season is on the road to nowhere.

The only victories that matter are what returns any trade or trades executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas makes between now and the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

With Karnišovas’ admission that he sees what everyone---fans, broadcasters, writers---sees, change is coming. This roster won’t look the same come late February and into next season. That, not chasing playoff or play-in games, is the main storyline to this season.

This will be Karnišovas’ second roster iteration after inheriting a rebuilding project and blowing it up to trade for Nikola Vucevic, Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan---the latter two in sign-and-trade acquisitions---and sign Alex Caruso in free agency. He also drafted Patrick Williams, Ayo Dosunmu, Dalen Terry and Julian Phillips.

Only Zach LaVine and Coby White remain from the roster Karnišovas inherited, and trading LaVine is the main organizational focal point for now. In fact, league sources said that, at least for now, Karnišovas is responding to inquiries on other players by saying he wants to see what the roster looks like post-LaVine trade first.

While many have clamored for change before now, there’s a possible thought process as to why Karnišovas has clung to this core for so long. When he completed his significant roster overhaul in August 2021, this roster iteration centered on a three-year window.

That represented the length of DeRozan’s contract, the length of the fully guaranteed portion of Caruso’s contract and pushed Lonzo Ball to the player option decision portion of his four-year deal.

In many ways, one can see how Ball’s career-threatening knee injury only has intensified Karnišovas’ bet on continuity. By next summer, Ball’s comeback will hit a crossroads. He either will return---in some form or fashion---or his injury will be determined career-ending, taking $21.3 million off the Bulls’ salary cap and luxury tax books.

Add to this LaVine’s likely exit and DeRozan’s extension talks on hold as DeRozan weighs his future, and the potential for real change exists. If Karnišovas really wants to tear his situation down to the studs, trading Caruso and even Andre Drummond---who league sources said would draw interest---would be on the table.

More likely, the Bulls start by trying to trade LaVine and see where the roster stands after that.

Winning, or at least not losing, that deal is the only thing that matters, not whether they beat the Hornets and Spurs next week.

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