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Here's how the Bulls, Artūras Karnišovas define being ‘competitive'

When the Bulls reason "competitive" for their unwavering continuity, here's what they mean

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While meeting with the media after a third straight NBA trade deadline where the Bulls kept quiet, Artūras Karnišovas preached his desire to remain "competitive" with the current roster at hand.

But with a 26-29 record, a ninth-place standing in the Eastern Conference and a 17-game deficit on the conference lead, no one believes this team is competitive.

What does Karnišovas mean when he says "competitive"?

"I mean to me, he didn't say it in the press conference but he's said it a lot of times. His definition of being competitive is making the playoffs," Insider K.C. Johnson said on the "Bulls Talk Podcast." "I will say, there has been some goalpost moving a little bit here because when he got here, the talk was of championships. It's now shifted to playoffs and a couple of years ago it was making the second round. Now it's just getting in. But that's what he means by 'competitive.' It's not just being in every game. It's making the playoffs. That's what he's trying to do."

Indeed, in the summer of 2021, the Bulls completely flipped the roster, acquiring Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and DeMar DeRozan. They had just traded for Nikola Vucevic at the previous deadline and drafted Patrick Williams with the No. 4 pick in the 2020 NBA draft.

All they've gotten from that roster is one playoff win in three seasons. Since that 2021 season, which is now relished by some as the last "successful" season the Bulls have had, they've endured one losing season in 2022 without a playoff berth, and possibly another one this season.

By today's NBA standards, where adaptation remains the top priority in NBA front offices, most would likely put an end to this roster and start rebuilding. The Bulls have only retooled i.e. marginally signing Jevon Carter, Torrey Craig and Andre Drummond.

“Since I came here to Chicago, I wanted to have a competitive team. We came up with a formula in 2021. We had somewhat of a success. We took, obviously, a step back with some injuries. But my objective doesn’t change: I would like to compete with the best teams,” Karnišovas said after the deadline. “This particular team showed they can compete with the best. And that’s what I’m excited about with 30 games to go.

“Any adjustments in the future we have to make, I’m very positive about that as well. We control our pick this year and then going into free agency, we’re pretty positive.”

The Bulls would ideally like to end up in a Miami Heat situation. As a play-in team last season, they competed with the Bulls in the tournament and earned themselves the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference tournament.

They turned that into a berth to the NBA Finals, taking on the Denver Nuggets, who they lost to in the end. Still, it showed the league anything can happen in the playoffs, as the Heat defeated the Hawks, 76ers and Celtics to qualify for the Finals, despite being the last seed in the playoffs.

“The vision this year is making a push for the playoffs. . . . Every season we want to be competitive, especially with the parity in the East," Karnišovas said.

His contention on the Eastern Conference's parity is interesting. Sure, the top teams are beatable, as the 76ers are without Joel Embiid for the majority of their season and the Bucks continue to have up-and-down struggles amid firing head coach Adrian Griffin.

But still, the gap between first and 10th place in the East is 19 games. In the West, it's 10 games.

And the Bulls don't exactly have a competitive advantage, as far as internal health goes. They're obviously without Ball for the entirety of this season. LaVine is out for the remainder of this season after undergoing foot surgery. Williams remains inactive with a foot injury. And Caruso always has a minute restriction.

“It’s a result-driven business. And I get it. And I’ll take responsibility for failures,” he said. “But at this point, it’s very early to say what’s success and what’s not success. We have 30 games to go. We’ll see what this team can do.”

We'll see how the Bulls fare over the back half of the season. Karnišovas mentioned the success stories of Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu and Drummond as reasons to remain optimistic about this season.

But the fact of the matter is the goals have shifted for the Bulls and this roster's odds of remaining together are dwindling. The real storyline to follow is what the Bulls will decide for the team's direction this summer during the offseason.

"Obviously, championships are still what he wants but they're far away from that. I don't think he's saying that word anymore probably because he knows it's not obtainable with this roster," Johnson said on the podcast. "That's the issue too, is that if he knows this core has a ceiling. ... I know they were trying to trade Zach [LaVine] but what's their plan to get off of it to reinvigorate the core while still keeping your goal of making the playoffs?

"We'll have to see what happens this summer."

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