Karnišovas steers Bulls toward winning with Vučević trade


Approximately two weeks ago, the Bulls’ brain trust assembled to begin planning for the 2021 NBA trade deadline with a simple guiding principle: Make the team better.

A number of long nights and brainstorming sessions later, that mission bore fruit. In the biggest splash of the deadline, the Bulls acquired Nikola Vučević from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two first-round picks (2021 and 2023, both top-four protected).

Usually you don’t get too many chances at All-Star level players,” Bulls executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas said hours later. “We were fortunate to get it done.”

Vučević, 30, is a two-time All-Star, in fact, with a career season across the board earning him honors once more this year. One of four players in the NBA currently averaging at least 24 points and 10 rebounds, he projects as a tidy fit into the Bulls’ offense, especially alongside fellow All-Star Zach LaVine, who, at 26, is entering his prime.

He can score. He can score low. He can score from 3. He’s a facilitator,” Karnišovas said of Vučević. “I think one of the best things that he can do is he can facilitate shots for others as well besides the fact that he’s a 25 (points per game) and 12 (rebounds per game) player.”

Indeed, Vučević is shooting 40.6 percent from behind the arc on 6.5 attempts per game, high volume for a man of his size and interior presence. His 3.8 assists per game matches a career-high, and he leads the NBA in total assists out of post ups (52), adding a compelling dynamic to a Bulls offense that has never lacked for shooting, but occasionally struggles with stagnance.

He’s going to make everybody’s life much easier,” Karnišovas said.

RELATED: Why Bulls’ Vučević trade provides snug fit, firm direction

Such decisions are never simple. Two lightly protected future first-round picks is a haul. Karnišovas thanked Carter, Porter, Daniel Gafford, Chandler Hutchison and Luke Kornet (the latter three were traded in later deals) for their contributions to the Bulls -- specifically saying that Carter is a talented, improving player.

But that’s the price of All-Star talent. And winning -- for the purposes of culture-setting, free-agent attraction and everything in between -- is essential to this regime. If it wasn’t already, that much is clear after Thursday.

We’re serious here about winning,” Karnišovas said. “We’re serious about the culture of being very competitive, and any opportunity we get to make this team better we will.’’

Karnišovas feels he did that, though the Vučević deal, and the supplemental acquisitions of Al-Farouq Aminu, Troy Brown Jr., Daniel Theis and Javonte Green.

We as front office probably are in the business of acquisition of talent,” Karnišovas said, also citing the news players’ relative playoff experience and diverse set of skills. “I’ve been really happy with the addition of talent today, toughness and competitiveness.”

Does that mean this group was lacking in those departments beforehand? That’s subtext which us on the outside can read. 

What’s near-certain is that the future will involve LaVine. This is a move geared to his on-court skill set and off-court sensibilities. His thirst for postseason basketball is well-documented, and the Bulls’ intentions are clear.

We try to win games. That's basically why we're in this business,” Karnišovas said. “Right from the beginning from the time we got here, we said that we're trying to get back to relevancy.

“Expectations are always obviously winning and getting in the playoffs and getting our team better.”

In Karnišovas words, the Bulls "took a chance" in pursuit of that Thursday. Now, they have two months to prove this nucleus can reach heights the past roster couldn’t. Then, an offseason when the front office will have another chance to keep building.

“We’re not done,” Karnišovas said. “We’re going to keep improving our quality of play. And then keep adding pieces to what this team is going to look like in the future.”

RELATED: Karnišovas isn't done reshaping Bulls after active deadline

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