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After the end of the 2023 NBA Draft, VP of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas and GM Marc Eversley addressed media to discuss their buying into the second round of the draft and the path forward.
Lonzo Ball is not coming back
“He’s recovering nicely,” Karnisovas said. “Last month, he got off the crutches. He’s recovering, doing his rehab. Everything is going well.”
And then, the bombshell.
“Going into the offseason, I think our expectation is that he’s not coming back next season and he’s going to continue with his recovery,” he continued.
Honestly, it’s good they got ahead of this one. The waiting to see was unfair to everyone.
“If he comes back, it would be great. But we’re going to treat this offseason and getting ready for the season as if he’s not coming back next season, We hope eventually you’re going to see him on the basketball court. But I do not think he’s going to be back next season.”
Billy Donovan mentioned the Bulls had to come into the 2022-23 season with the mindset that they may not get Ball back, but with the acknowledgement from management ahead of free agency, there absolutely needs to be some sort of solution heading into next year.
Karnisovas said that a waive-and-stretch is not on the table at all, and that the group will meet next week to determine other courses of action, such as a disabled player exception.
Of course, a lot of that comes down to the money.
Luxury tax and cap situation
“We have a lot of work to do,” Karnisovas said. “You’re obviously writing about how much work we need to do. People are telling me we need to get to it. So we will this week. We’re going to address our stuff in free agency.”
Absolute banger quote. That dry sense of humor finally coming through in the press conference.
But snark aside, the Bulls cap situation is in dire straights, especially with $20 million of Ball’s dead money dragging them through the mud. One of the few ways out is to spend into the tax using the mid-level exception, bi-annual exception and even a potential disabled player exception to at least bring in some talent.
“It all depends on free agency,” Karnisovas said. “Jerry and Michael have been always open with me to go into the luxury tax if our team is competitive. Top four, top six in the East. If there are players in free agency that can improve our team, and we’re competitive, we’ll retain our free agents.”
To be clear, do you feel like you can go into the luxury tax if you need to?
It’s interesting to finally hear specific thresholds that would qualify them to go into the tax. Does this mean, during the season, if the Bulls are in the home court advantage race, they can make a trade to go into the tax? If so, it’s unlikely they take the plunge this year.
In all likelihood, Nikola Vucevic is coming back. The plan is to extend qualifying offers to Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White. It’s going to be almost impossible to bring everyone back, let alone add talent to compete at that level. It’s a chicken vs. egg scenario that the luxury tax truthers will never win.
But in this case, they may need to go into the tax simply to stay afloat. Will they make it an annual tradition? Almost certainly not. But they could use the tax as a buffer to keep the team intact while trying to add to improve their compete level.
Apparently, they can, but I’m not holding my breath. But it may be the only way to bring back their guys to stay competitive.
Adding a Shooting Coach
Last in the league in three-point attempt rate. Last in the league in three-point makes.
You just can’t win that way.
Despite drafting another non-shooter in Julian Phillips, the Bulls are confident in their ability to develop high-level floor spacers.
“When we showed up here two years ago we talked a lot about player development and internal growth,” GM Marc Eversley said. “We recently hired a new Director of Player Development to focus just on that: shooting.”
“As a team, our shooting needs to improve. We sat as a group and talked about some of the things we needed to do and one of them was we needed to hire a shooting coach.”
Enter newly hired Peter Patton, former Mavericks and Timberwolves shooting coach, who will direct player development for the Bulls.
“Peter (Patton) not only comes to us as a shooting coach, but someone who can oversee our player development function,” Eversley said. “We thought we needed a fresh look. We thought we needed a different approach.”
“We feel like he can help the overall look and feel of how we play the game and shoot the ball.”
There’s a difference between “guys who can shoot” and “shooters.” The Bulls need to develop their players into the former before we determine whether it’s possible to ever become the latter.
But it’s a step in the right direction.
End of the Vucevic trade
With the 11th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, the Orlando Magic select Jett Howard.
The final piece of the Vucevic trade comes full circle:
Effectively Vucevic for Wendell Carter Jr. and the picks that became Franz Wagner and Howard.
“I think that transaction when we brought Vooch here showed everyone that we’re trying to win,” Karnisovas said. “I think once we brough Vooch, we brought in DeMar, we brought in Alex Caruso, we brought in Zo. And that started us trying to improve our team and trying to be competitive.”
“I thought that deal worked out pretty well for us.”
I get the messaging. There was a desire to get out of the gutter and you have to pay to do so. I also understand he’s never going to sit at the podium and say the won.
While the pieces are now in place, in reality this trade will haunt the Bulls for many years to come. While they reinvest in Vucevic and the Magic ascend, their futures will forever be tied to one another. This decision’s output is just as important as the input. And the output isn’t looking too pretty.
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