Karnišovas explains standing pat at trade deadline


Given only Zach LaVine and Coby White remain from the roster that Artūras Karnišovas inherited less than two years ago, the Chicago Bulls’ executive vice president’s aggressiveness has set a high bar for expectations.

That’s both a good thing for an executive who talked about championship aspirations in his March 2020 introductory news conference and a bad thing on a day like Thursday.

That’s when the NBA trade deadline came and went with a flurry of moves from Eastern Conference contenders and none from the Bulls.


Given Karnišovas’ and his staff’s previous aggressiveness, expect the buyout market to be heavily scoured, in his words, “when the dust settles.” Even the eating of a contract like, say, Alfonzo McKinnie’s if a buyout candidate is signed should be another reminder that this is a new era.

Along those lines, a team source said ownership is comfortable paying the luxury tax and management knew this as it approached this deadline — and as it braces for a projected maximum contract extension for LaVine this offseason. The Bulls only have paid the luxury tax one time in franchise history.

In other words, financial restrictions were not why no moves were made.

Asked if he would have felt comfortable presenting ownership with a trade package that would have taken the Bulls into luxury-tax territory, Karnišovas said: “I think for the past nine months we were pretty aggressive with this group. We're all about winning.”

Sources said that management never truly considered packaging injured second-year forward Patrick Williams in any deals, which, really, was the only path to a significant needle-moving transaction. With plans to address the back end of the roster in the near future, Karnišovas has earned the right to see what his frenetic work over the past 22 months has produced.

“I think it reflects that we like this group,” Karnišovas said when asked about standing pat. “(Head coach) Billy (Donovan) obviously said it all along. We’re just waiting for guys to come back from injuries to get this group together because we had a short sample of 16 games where most of our guys were healthy. That doesn’t include Patrick. In those 16 games, we were top five in offense and defense, so we liked what we looked like when everyone was healthy. Hopefully, we’ll get this group back and see what we can do.”

A soft target date of mid-March is being discussed internally regarding Williams’ return after he was lost to torn wrist ligaments five games into the season. Karnišovas wouldn’t put a timeline on it, and all rehabilitations are fluid. But he echoed Donovan’s words from last week by saying: “I think you’re going to see him this year.”

There’s also internal optimism that Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and Derrick Jones Jr. will return from their respective long-term injuries before the regular season ends. That will allow all three players some acclimation time before the playoffs begin.

Ball had surgery to repair a meniscus tear, Caruso had surgery to repair a fractured wrist and Jones Jr. suffered a fractured finger.

“We were pretty busy last trade deadline. We were pretty busy this summer. So we made a lot of changes. We’re pretty much looking for continuity,” Karnišovas said. “This group has shown we can compete in the Eastern Conference, and our record reflects it. We were taking calls, but basically the mutual feeling with all of our group was that let’s get our guys back, we’re going to have enough time in the regular season to see what this group can do when they’re all healthy.’’

Last season’s trade deadline produced the first flurry of foundational moves to lead the Bulls where they are today. The surprising, win-now acquisition of Nikola Vučević helped lead to the arrivals of Ball and DeMar DeRozan in sign-and-trade transactions, and Caruso’s signing in free agency.

Last season, Karnišovas beat the trade deadline buzzer to add a third team into a deal and eventually net Javonte Green, Troy Brown Jr. and Daniel Theis. Green has become a valuable stopgap starter and projects to be a crucial reserve rotational piece when the Bulls are fully healthy.

This season, there were no such dramatics. But that was a choice by management, one based on the desire for continuity and to maximize the chemistry and closeness of this team.

And one other thing.

“My wish list was to get healthy,” Karnišovas cracked.

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