Bulls Insider

Why Bulls' core expected to return after playoff berth


Alex Caruso joined “The Pat McAfee Show” this week and professed his enjoyment in playing for the Chicago Bulls.

“I love playing in Chicago,” Caruso told the show. “I love Billy Donovan. I love our front office. I love our team.”

This echoed comments that Lonzo Ball made earlier this week to HEIR Company in which Ball said playing in Chicago “is amazing.”

Similar sentiments from players consistently surfaced throughout last season, which culminated in the Bulls’ first playoff appearance in five years.

Obviously, winning makes for good chemistry. And both Ball and Caruso, like DeMar DeRozan, chose to play here during management’s dizzying and aggressive overhaul of the roster last offseason.

But these words shouldn’t be discounted. They stem from the overall atmosphere and infrastructure that management has tried to create since arriving just over two years ago.

It’s why, while acknowledging Zach LaVine’s choice in the matter, executive vice president Arturas Karnišovas expressed confidence the Bulls will be able to retain the unrestricted free agent this offseason. And it’s why, in light of recent rumors, Karnišovas’ words about seeking continuity for his core also could hold weight.

“I hope for continuity because we’re constantly competing against teams that have been together for three, four, five years. Results come obviously when you keep the same group together longer,” Karnišovas said on April 29. “We’ll figure out what additions we need. Is that shooting, is that defense, is that size, athleticism? We’re going to sit down and figure it out with the group.

“We've always been ready for what comes our way. Hopefully we can keep the core together and work around the margins.”

Unexpected opportunities arise in the NBA. Karnišovas knows this as well as anyone, having quickly pivoted from interviewing multiple assistant coaches to instead hire Billy Donovan when Donovan and the Oklahoma City Thunder parted ways late in the 2020 offseason.

Much of the current NBA gossip circle is centered on the Utah Jazz, whose future direction is up for debate with the arrival of executive Danny Ainge and the departure of coach Quin Snyder. But Karnišovas believes those words about core continuity, which is why he said them not only in April but when the February trade deadline passed with no action.

The Bulls own the 18th pick in this month’s NBA draft. They are confident in their ability to retain LaVine, a two-time All-Star who is on the front end of his prime. They can add reserve depth with salary cap exceptions.

But the core of LaVine, DeRozan, Ball, Caruso, Nikola Vučević and Patrick Williams still has barely played together. And when it did, management liked what it saw.

The Bulls’ roster will feature new faces next season. But after so much change and turnover in such a short period of time, the safe bet — as long as LaVine returns — is that the core will remain intact.

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