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Arturas Karnisovas explains the Chicago Bulls inactivity at the trade deadline

Will Gottlieb Avatar
February 8, 2024

The Chicago Bulls streak of 894 days since they last traded a player stays intact after the NBA Trade Deadline bell rang at 2 pm. Three consecutive trade deadlines of inactivity from Bulls lead decision-maker Arturas Karnisovas.

Though there were potential moves out there, the Bulls were not going to operate as sellers.

“We could take a step back, which we don’t want,” Karnisovas told reporters. “We want to stay competitive. We have an obligation to this organization and this fan base and this city to stay competitive and compete for the Playoffs. And that’s what we’re doing.”

The Bulls, currently 24-27, are in 9th place. Heading into Thursday’s matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, they’re three games away from the 8th seed and 4.5 from a secured playoff spot in the sixth seed.

“I’m selling a competitive group that is competing right now for playoffs,” Karnisovas said. “And that’s just evidence and, you know, you bring up the standings. I mean, we’re all bunched up in that area in the middle. So that’s, you know, that’s what I see with this team at this point. Any adjustments will be made in the future, but, you know, this group is really good.”

Since the 5-14 start, Karnisovas says he is much happier with the team now. And to be fair, his team is playing much better. As he noted, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. Coby White’s ascension, Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams taking strides. DeMar DeRozan has been the team’s closer. Nikola Vucevic is the steady double-double machine. Alex Caruso makes winning plays.

And for AK, that’s enough.

“There’s so many positive stories around this team,” Karnisovas said. “The biggest thing for me is, you look at every option that’s out there to improve your team and we didn’t see anything that would make us better.”

Still, fans remain up in arms that the team has not made any meaningful additions to the roster in almost three full seasons. Karnisovas says that too many teams were looking to be buyers, and the market landscape wasn’t conducive to making additions.

“What we did in 2021, the summer when we turned our roster around, I think we showed that we can be aggressive,” Karnisovas said. “In this particular moment, especially at this trade deadline, and the market changes all the time, is when every team or most of the teams in the league are trying to win, it’s a buyers market. And we are trying to stay competitive and trying not to take a step back. And so you’re looking at all the options on the table and we didn’t see anything that can improve our team.”

Well, what’s the problem with taking a small step back now to help yourself improve at the start of next season?

“It’s a subjective way of looking at things,” he continued. “It just depends on what was on a table, right? So at this juncture, I’m always going to look at how to improve the team for now, that makes us more competitive, and for the future. And we didn’t have those options available.”

If additions weren’t an option, the Bulls could have looked to pivot and go the other direction. With so many teams looking to buy and so few sellers, the Bulls had an opportunity to make a killing on their sales of Caruso or DeRozan or Drummond.

“The shakeup doesn’t guarantee you success….I think a trade deadline usually, you know, those moves don’t make you better,” Karnisovas said.

It’s possible for fans to enjoy a competitive bunch and still want to go the other direction, prioritize the young players on the roster and start to develop the next era of Bulls basketball. And though ownership is often cited as a default reason the team will never be allowed to re-enter another rebuild, Karnisovas says he has the support of the ownership group regardless of what direction he takes the team.

“Yes, ownership is supporting me, whatever we decide,” Karnisovas said. “Moving forward, whatever we would decide to do with this team. But (building a) competitive team in the Eastern Conference is what we tried to accomplish and, you know, with 30 games to go we looking forward to try to make playoffs.”

Karnisovas is owning this decision, and he’s prepared to take accountability for its failures.

“I think we can comment on that in 30 games, right? It’s a result driven business and I get it. And I’ll take responsibility for failures, but at this point, it’s very early to say what is success, what’s not success. So I mean, we have 30 games to go, we’ll see what this team can do.”

Unfortunately, Karnisovas did not specify the threshold for what constitutes success. He continued to beat the “competitiveness” drum, so we’ll have to see how he feels about the season once it ends.

Even though the definition of success is murky, the goal is certainly clear.

The goal is to make the playoffs.

“Well, the vision this year is making a push for the playoffs, and then you know, depends on the result and, evaluate individual players, then you’re gonna go through the draft, you’re gonna go through free agency,” he said. “That’s the sequence every season we’re gonna take. We want to be competitive, especially now with parity in the East. So, we’re gonna compete, and then we’re gonna make adjustments at the end of the year.”

Future outlook

Part of the incentive to make some trades at this deadline period was to prepare for the upcoming salary cap crunch. With DeRozan, Williams and Drummond pending free agents and LaVine’s contract clogging up the cap, making some moves now to get ahead of these decisions would have been smart.

“The cap, we call it gymnastics, we can talk about it after the season,” Karnisovas said.

As for LaVine, who’s trade saga became all too public earlier this season, Karnisovas said he believes the Bulls are better with him than without.

“I don’t have any concerns,” Karnisovas said. “I think Zach wants to win. Bottom line, we’re a better team with Zach on a team. It’s as simple as that.”

LaVine underwent the procedure on his foot today, and will be sidelined 4-6 months.

Karnisovas also said he hopes Lonzo Ball will return but acknowledges that would be a perfect world scenario. That leaves the door open for a potential injury exclusion clause, which could wipe Ball’s $21 million figure off the Bulls cap sheet next year.

Either way, it’s clear the Bulls aren’t ready to deal with their problems yet. They’ll ride out the rest of the year and try to figure things out this summer.

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