After letting the NBA Trade Deadline pass without making any moves at the deadline, the Bulls EVP of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas claimed that the powers have shifted west, opening up the competitive landscape. Of course, he was referring to the Brooklyn Nets, who just traded Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Well, before Cameron Johnson and Mikal Bridges could even get their jerseys printed, the Nets had completed the first game of the post-Durant era; a 116-105 win against the Chicago Bulls.
Despite a “pretty active deadline,” Karnisovas took the prudent route, and opting against overpaying for an addition.
“There were a lot of teams that didn’t want to take a step back, including us. We tried to improve our team, but at what cost? That price was not OK with us,” Karnisovas told reporters in Brooklyn.
Interestingly to learn the Bulls were buyers at the trade deadline. With the stated expectation that the Bulls will make the Playoffs, it may be even more surprising that they stay the course with the same group they were already staying the course with. While that’s a better outcome than a bad trade just to make a trade, it also leaves unanswered questions.
First and foremost, what more is there to see from this group?
The Bulls are 26-29. They are the ninth seed in the East. They’re 34-45 if you include the post All-Star record from last season, which the Bulls claimed to be considering as part of their evaluation of their current group.
At this point, there is not much left to evaluate. We know what this team is. We know their strengths, we know their flaws and we know their ceiling.
At their best, they are a dynamic group of scorers. Zach LaVine (38 points on 16-of-25) shooting played to the level of his max contract. Nikola Vucevic (15 points, 17 rebounds) had one of his less impactful performances but still anchored the offense. DeMar DeRozan struggled while recovering from hip soreness, but still managed to provide 14 points and six assists — an off-night for him, no doubt.
But there are reasons they lost this game. Shooting is one of them. LaVine made the Bulls first three-pointer half-way through the third quarter. The Bulls finished 5-of-26 and remain the lowest three-point shooting team in the NBA.
Defense is one of them too. The Bulls have a top-ten defense this year, but it’s somewhat of a paper tiger. They allow a top-five number of three pointers, yet opposing teams convert at a bottom-ten rate. A swing in regression is coming, and it may have started with a 17-of-44 night for Brooklyn.
Whether it was a monumental move or just something on the fringes, this Bulls group needed some infusion of talent. Instead, Karnisovas says the Bulls will use the final 28 games of the season to evaluate this team. Now, there’s 27 left, and they’re off to a bad start.
“Like I said, mediocrity and average is not OK with us,” Karnisovas said. “But the next step is what’s going to happen for the rest of the season and then how we can address, during the draft and free agency, the shortcomings.”
This game was supposed to be the start of a new day with the same group. It was a bet, by Karnisovas, on himself and the team he put together. Now they need to prove him right to justify the inactivity.
Thursday’s loss felt more like an ironic twist of the knife.
- Bulls will be active on the buyout market, per Karnisovas. Potentially available guards include Russell Westbrook, John Wall, Reggie Jackson and Will Barton.
- Karnisovas confident Bulls will retain Nikola Vucevic: “He’s having an unbelievable year. We want him to be here. So I just think that for this group, now is important. Now that the trade deadline has passed, this is the group that we’re sticking with. They can go out there and play and put a foot on the gas and put together a run.”
- Despite a lack of flexibility in the offseason, Karnisvoas believes he can recover if things continue to go awry: “We’ll have ways to do it,” Karnisovas said. “This trade deadline showed us that we have a lot of good players who have a lot of value around the league. I think there’s ways to do it…We turned the roster around the last couple years. We’ve done deals in the summertime that a lot of people said that we couldn’t do. I think there are ways to improve it. It’s just the timing is going to depend on when you make those moves.”
Up next: Bulls head to Cleveland for a Saturday night game against the Cavaliers