Karnišovas implies 2nd round expectations for Bulls

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During the Chicago Bulls' media day Monday afternoon, Artūras Karnišovas used a question about expectations for his team to set a clear standard for success in 2022-23:

Appreciable improvement from the 2021-22 campaign.

“Last year, the result, you know, we were not surprised we made the playoffs. A lot of people were surprised,” Karnišovas told reporters. “Nor should we be surprised to make the playoffs this year. But what we want to see is obviously improvement.”

Last season was a successful one for the Bulls in a few respects. After overhauling their roster in the 2021 offseason — and bolstering their top end talent with acquisitions like DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso — the team posted a winning record (46-36) for the first time since 2016 and earned a playoff berth for the first time since 2017.

But as Karnišovas intimates, injuries — mainly to Ball, Caruso and Patrick Williams — and regression stalled a team that led the East as late as the All-Star break. 

The Bulls finished the year sixth in the conference and bowed out of the first round of the playoffs in a five-game rout at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks. That rout not only featured four losses by an average of 19.3 points, it also occurred as the Bucks played largely without Khris Middleton, who suffered an MCL sprain in his left knee late in Game 2.

“Once you get to the playoffs and you have healthy bodies I think a lot of things can happen,” Karnišovas said. “So I think we have to do better than last year. When you get to the playoffs, as always, things happen, certain teams missing one or two key players, and you can get by a round. Those are the expectations.”

Those sound like second-round expectations — at least — by the Bulls’ boss. It lines up with a separate sentiment conveyed by star guard Zach LaVine, whose sights are set on a deep postseason run as well.

“I mean if they’re not high then what are we doing here?” LaVine said of the Bulls’ expectations. “Obviously we’re a team that held a top-seeded record in the East all the way until a little bit after All-Star Break. Made our first playoff berth, got our feet wet. But our expectations have to be really high. If we’re not thinking we can compete for championships then we’re selling ourselves short.’’

Such expectations won't be easy to fulfill. The Eastern Conference improved in each tier this offseason, including from behind the Bulls, where 2022 play-in tournament teams like Cleveland (Donovan Mitchell) and Atlanta (Dejounte Murray) made All-Star additions, and Brooklyn brings back Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

But for the Bulls to continue the good vibes of this management regime’s first two seasons, they must find a way.

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