A couple weeks ago, Chicago Bulls Vice-President of Basketball Operations, Arturas Karnisovas, gave his end of season remarks to the media. Between his prepared statement and answers to media questions, he covered a lot of ground. Today, I’m just going to highlight a few things that stood out to me from the press conference and draw some speculative conclusions about what the future might hold for the Bulls.
The presser started with Arturas reading a prepared statement in his very deadpan voice. He reiterated that while it was a season of evaluation, it was also disappointing to NOT be competing in the post-season. He pointed to three problem areas that the Bulls struggled with for the entire season as the cause of the disappointment: Turnovers, fouling opponents, and not shooting enough free-throws.
Arturas promised that going forward the Round Table would focus on bringing more balance to on-court play. The Bulls won’t trade defensive energy for offensive energy, or vice-versa. I take this to mean that they will look for players that can contribute on both ends of the court, not just specializing in defense or offense. Good luck with that. The entire league is looking for 2-way players.
At the end of his statement, Karnisovas promised that the Round Table would continue being aggressive; through trades, the Draft, or free agency, whatever they can do to get better, all options are on the table. And here is where the first real alarm bells have gone off for me with this regime. Somewhere in the prepared statement, Arturas talked about everyone (the Round Table I’m assuming) taking a couple weeks off to sit with things and evaluate the season before coming together to formulate a plan for the offseason. Shouldn’t that plan already be formulated?
I’ve never worked in an NBA front office before so I don’t know how the timing and decision making work, but it seems to me that the Round Table should already have targets lined up for trade or free agency, that draft prospects should have been considered, and salary cap calculations taken into account. Maybe all of that stuff has already happened and he was just talking about a final sit-down meeting with the rest of the decision makers to clarify their plans. Maybe this is just the normal timeline that all, or most, NBA front offices run on, and he just let us all peak behind the curtain. Whatever it turns out to be, we’ve seen that Arturas is not afraid to make surprising, and seemingly impulsive decisions when it comes to recreating this Bulls team, and that worries me.
Did he trade this seasons first round draft pick without considering whether or not there might be a franchise changing player somewhere in that group of prospects? Nikola Vucevic is a talented All-Star in his prime whose timeline matches up with Zach LaVine, but was there a Steph Curry, or Kawhi Leonard to be got with our 1st round pick? Would they be able to recognize that player if he existed? We don’t know. I’m not saying the trade was bad. I’m just worried about how well thought out it was.
Darnell Mayberry of the Athletic asked the questions we were all thinking: Is there a plan for the offseason? And if so, what is it? Arturas sort of deflected the question. He talked about taking the next two months to complete prep work for the draft (if the ping-pong balls fall their way) and for free agency. He posited that having 2 All-Stars on the roster makes things easier, and reassured everyone that the Round Table would “attack the needs of the team” in the offseason.
The needs of the Bulls are many this offseason. From the ongoing Quest For A Point Guard, to the ever present need for wing depth, the Bulls also have to add another big man to the roster as well as fill out various bench spots with role players. It looks like it’s going to be a very busy offseason for Eversley and Karnisovas.
The next question that Arturas fielded was about how the front office would approach Lauri Markkanen’s restricted free agency. Again Karnisovas deflected the question, talking about how good a year Markkanen had, citing his improvement in 3 point percentage and calling Markkanen an “essential” part of the team. AK also stated that he hoped Lauri would be a part of what they are building with the Bulls. On the surface, his statements seem to indicate that they want to bring the Finnisher back, but this could also be the set up for a potential sign-and-trade scenario when free agency begins. Unlike the previous regime, the Round Table seem smart enough not to devalue the players they intend to move on from right before the offseason starts.
I’m still leaning in the direction of letting Markkanen try his skills with another team. I think he needs a change of scenery, and I don’t think he fits the mold of player the Round Table seem focused on acquiring. If we are to take Arturas at his word, that the Bulls want to fill the roster with 2-way players, then Lauri doesn’t fit with their plans. Unless the coaching staff believe they can develop him into as much of a defensive threat as he is an offensive threat, I think a sign-and-trade is what we can expect this summer.
The next few questions focused on the development of Coby White and Patrick Williams. Karnisovas was positive about both young players, acknowledging their ups and downs throughout the season, but generally expressing happiness with how they grew. He also pointed out how much better Coby played with the addition of Vucevic to the roster, and expressed excitement for Patrick Williams all-around skill set.
I’ll go a little deeper into my thoughts on Coby and P-Will when I do my annual End of the Season Grades next week, but I agree with Karnisovas’ answer. Coby did get better with Vucevic in the lineup, and Williams does have a plethora of basketball skills. Their futures are bright.
When asked to evaluate the coaching staff, Arturas said he was “blessed” to have Billy Donovan as the head coach, and that the staff did a tremendous job during a tough season. Again, I agree with AK’s assessment of the coaching staff. Were there things they could have done better? Yes. Am I still basking in this refreshingly professional post-Fred Hoiberg/Jim Boylen era of coaching? Absolutely. Will I be tougher on the Bulls coaching staff next season if the team underachieves? Darn tooting I will!
The last three important questions for Arturas revolved around next seasons roster. The first was about a contract extension for Zach LaVine this offseason. Arturas said that it was a day-to-day thing. The second question was about bringing back Daniel Theis. Arturas liked his toughness and defense. The final question asked if Marko Simonovic, the Bulls draft-and-stash 2nd rounder from last years draft, would be joining the team next season. AK assured everyone that Marko was in their plans, but they hadn’t decided if they would bring him over this summer. Simonovic still had a few weeks left in the season of the Serbian league he plays in, and the Round Table would evaluate his play and make a decision when his season was over.
I’m guessing the decision to bring Simonovic to the Bulls will hinge on how well the Round Table does in acquiring free agents and filling out the roster this summer. If they can’t get the right talent in free agency, I’m sure we’ll see Simonovic joining the team. From the highlight videos I’ve watched of Simonovic this season, he could be a nice addition to the Bulls wing depth, but I think he’s going to need a lot of time to adjust to the NBA game.
Overall, it was a pretty standard end of season press conference. While a lot of words were spoken not a lot was actually said. We did learn that the Bulls will probably target tough 2-way players this offseason, guys that don’t turn the ball over, don’t foul very often, and have a habit of getting to the free-throw line. I believe a sign-and-trade is in the future for Lauri Markkanen, and the possibility of Marko Simonovic taking his spot on the roster is real. It’s unlikely the Bulls and Zach LaVine will agree on a contract extension this summer, and the big take away for me this press conference, were those alarm bells that went off in my head when AK talked about formulating a plan for the offseason.
The Round Table likes to portray itself as a group of cool headed evaluators that take their time and do the ground work before they make moves, they certainly moved slow enough when it came to firing Jim Boylen and turning over the roster. But for all their talk about “evaluating” and “due diligence,” the major moves they’ve made (the Donovan hiring, trading for Vucevic, Theis, Aminu, Green and Brown) all appear to be brash, spur-of-the-moment, emotional decisions. That doesn’t make the moves bad, it just means that AK is an actual Wild Card, and as much as we all love to speculate about the Bulls and what they’ll do this offseason, you never know what to expect from a Wild Card.
Coming up on the RokDeez Bulls Blog, I’m quickly transitioning to one post a week as is my summer tradition. I intend on posting either on Wednesdays or Thursdays, whichever day my lazy butt gets a post done. Next week will be my end of season grades, and in the weeks to come you can expect some deeper dives into some of the available free agents that might fit what Arturas is trying to build here. As you probably noticed I took a couple weeks off from posting. Just like the Bulls front office, I sat with some things, did some self-evaluation, and enjoyed a couple weeks without writing (we all need a break sometimes), but now I’m back (for the next few weeks at least), refreshed, and ready to write about Bulls basketball! Until the next time I do, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!