Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
MEMPHIS, Tenn. --- Artūras Karnišovas’ trade deadline day news conference in 2024 sounded plenty like his 2023 version.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Chicago sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
We like our group. We’re competitive. The play-in tournament has created a buyer’s market and we didn’t want to be sellers.
And in many ways, the Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations has consistently stated this mindset ever since he inherited a rebuild and promptly blew it up with his initial big splash, the March 2021 acquisition of Nikola Vucevic.
“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 Thursday. “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.”
Karnišovas went on to---deep breath here---detail Coby White’s breakout season while campaigning for him to be named the NBA’s Most Improved Player---“Coby’s on a different planet right now,” he said---the improvement of Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams; DeMar DeRozan’s steady veteran leadership and closing ability; Vucevic’s “double-double machine” ability and habit of making winning plays; Andre Drummond’s contributions and even what he called growth from Dalen Terry and Julian Phillips.
“I just think there are so many positive stories around this team,” Karnišovas said.
The sub-.500 record says otherwise. And while it’s true the Bulls improved to 20-13 since their abysmal 5-14 start, their 22nd-ranked offense is only slightly better than last season’s and their 15th-ranked defense lags behind last season’s top-five version.
This core seemingly has a ceiling, with one playoff victory and a 1-1 record in last season’s play-in tournament over the last two seasons. But apparently, 20-13 is this year’s 14-9.
That 14-9 post-All-Star break record last season, fueled in part by Patrick Beverley’s in-your-face personality, cemented Karnišovas’ philosophy for continuity and cohesiveness. He added only Phillips, Jevon Carter and Torrey Craig during the offseason.
“What we did in 2021 when we turned our roster around that summer, I think we showed we can be aggressive. At this particular moment, especially at this trade deadline, most of the teams in the league are trying to win and it’s a buyer’s market,” Karnišovas said. “We are trying to stay competitive and trying not to take a step back.
“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.”
This jibes with what Karnišovas said when he first took the job in 2020.
“These fans deserve a team that they can be proud of, and my objective is to get us back to relevancy,” he said then. “Our ultimate goal is to bring an NBA championship to the city of Chicago.”
Lauri Markkanen’s rise in Utah is just one reminder of how quickly Karnišovas pushed the eject button on the rebuilding project he inherited. But the talk now is of competitiveness, not championships.
The Bulls are far from that.
“I think a shakeup doesn’t guarantee you success,” Karnišovas said. “The names, like rebuild and all this stuff, is thrown around. This group gives you the best chance to compete. And our younger players are developing and taking a step forward.
“I think when we came here, the Bulls missed the playoffs (four) years in a row. I think with those thoughts in mind, we all have those (rebuilding) conversations internally. But at the end of the day, our group believes in this team.”
In fact, the Bulls tried to be buyers, working to try to acquire Bojan Bogdanović from the Pistons. So how does Karnišovas define competitiveness?
“I think we can comment on that in 30 games. 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.”