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Takeaways from Arturas Karnisovas' end of season presser

Will Gottlieb Avatar
April 15, 2023

The end of the Chicago Bulls’ season is finally here, and that means it’s time to start looking ahead.

Arturas Karnisovas sat down with the media Saturday afternoon to address questions about the performance of the team, his evaluation of the group including strengths and flaws, and the path ahead.

My overall thoughts are that this was a pretty disappointing press conference. I wasn’t expecting to see a slide deck of the possible options this summer, but I didn’t come away with confidence the Bulls will be able to address any of their needs.

In short: Karnisovas likes his guys and wants to bring all his free agents back based on the second-half improvements. He also acknowledges the shortcomings of the group and wants to address those issues, but will have limited avenues in doing so.

Karnisovas and his staff are extremely smart, but this will require some luck, creativity and ingenuity — none of which I put past this front office, just noting the difficulty. So if and when they decide on a (new) path, they will have their work cut out for them.

Here are some of the key quotes from his availability and my response and, or reaction to what he said.

Adding shooting

It will be a priority for us to kind of change our shooting profile because it’s very difficult for us to go into every game with such a deficit. We’re last in rate, three-point rate, we’re last in three-point field goals made. It’s almost like we’re going into every game with 8 points deficit to make up for it.

If you watched the CHGO Bulls podcast one (1) time this season, you likely heard us complaining about the lack of shooting on the roster. Finishing 29th in the NBA in three-point attempt rate, last in three-point attempts per game and last in three-point makes per game.

What’s more, they led the league in percent of all shots coming beyond 14 feet but within the three-point line. These long mid-range shots are considered some of the lowest efficiency shots, and while the Bulls are effective in such looks, it’s not a formula for high-octane offense.

The Bulls have to address their point guard play, their depth and wing defense, but all of those things have to come behind shooting. With the resources they have to work with, it will be difficult to add specialists without making other moves, which it seems the Bulls are averse to doing.

Lonzo Ball and regrets about handling the PG position last summer?

I don’t have regrets because I had to wait for clarity. We were going with hopes he was going to play with us and and that didn’t happen and I had to adjust afterwards. That’s how we’re going to look at it. I don’t know his timeline, but we’re going to make adjustments and tweaks to the roster to address that.

I don’t buy this. It’s mighty convenient the first surgery was announced after free agency, and the second surgery was announced 10 days after the trade deadline.

Either way, all indications from the outside pointed toward the Bulls not having Ball. The Bulls had to have more information than the media and fans, so it would be shocking if there was no idea that Ball, who was still not getting close to ramping up a week before the deadline, would magically be ready to rock and roll in time for the Bulls to not make any moves.

Clarity is a good cover for what is, in reality, an impossible cap situation to manage.

Should the Bulls have picked a more definitive lane at the Trade Deadline?

“We chose the lane which was to stay with the same group, and that came out post-All-Star the right decision. I don’t know if we could have made any changes that could have done better than 14-9.”

“I think that was our lane, to stay with the group. And secondly, obviously you need to know what was available, and if there were no deals to make this team better, those are the decisions we made and stayed pat.”

I personally disagree with the path the Bulls took at the deadline. I understand why they did it, but disagree nonetheless.

Yes, the Bulls were a much better ball team after acquiring Patrick Beverley off the buy out market. They were a top-half offense and led the league in defense. They went five games over .500 but still weren’t good enough to be a .500 team on the season. And it still wasn’t good enough to get them out of the Play-In Tournament.

Karnisovas is right that we don’t know what was available to him at the deadline, but this reads to me like he was only interested in seeking additions, rather than starting to dismantle. Especially with key players entering free agency.

If you want to win in this league, you have to be willing to find value, even if it comes in forms you weren’t prepared for. We all knew the ceiling of this team. We saw the outcome from a mile away.

The Bulls had an opportunity to kick start a re-tool, rebuild, re-imagination, re-working of this roster, but settled for the middle. When you hyper-focus on winning when you’re not good enough to win, you make mistakes.

Re-Signing Free Agents

On Nikola Vucevic: “He’s a huge part of this team. We hope to retain him.”

Does Karnisovas hope to re-sign White?: Absolutely.”

On Ayo Dosunmu: “I think it’s going to be a big offseason for him, but I hope he’s here for a long time as well.”

Given the current state of the salary cap sheet, this becomes extremely difficult to do while staying under the tax, let alone trying to bring in new talent to help address the aforementioned deficiencies.

More to come on cap specifics. But I highly doubt the Bulls are going into the tax to run it back with a 40-win team.

Will the Bulls ever pay the luxury tax?

“In terms of support from the ownership, from Jerry and Michael, I’ll always add support and just obviously that’s going to have to be justified when we’re ready to push forward. It waits to be seen this offseason what this team is going to look like.”

“That’s going to have to be justified when we’re ready to push for it” is interesting. Seems like he’ll have the green light to make a pitch, if and when this team comes remotely close to contention.

But I’ll believe it when I see it.

What’s next?

“To be honest, we’ve shown so much improvement here and at any time I’m going to be open to pretty much anything how to improve this roster. That’s been thrown around all this season – “Blow up, rebuild” – it’s not on our minds. I think the moment we changed our minds in 2021 season to kind of focus on winning and try to build a sustainable program here, I think that’s what we’re focused right now on. How we can help this group and how we can improve from this year and that’s what our offseason’s goal is going to look like. We’re going to consider everything and how we can compete with the top teams.”

“The way we finished the season, I think we’re on the right path. And we’re going to have this time in the postseason to sit down with the front office and coaching staff and figure out what needs improving moving forward.”

“My responsibility is to look at everything. At the end of the day, to be a .500 team is not good enough…I’ll be open to anything.”

Look, Karnisovas wasn’t ever going to get on the podium and say they are going for a full-scale rebuild. At the very least, it would be bad business to tell the 29 other teams their plan.

With that said, the Bulls do need to be open to this possibility.

Vucevic played 82 games. Zach LaVine played 77. DeMar DeRozan played 74. Those three played the most minutes of any three-man lineup in the entire NBA this season and yet they were a -0.4 net rating. They were -1.1 as the 17th most commonly used trio last year.

That isn’t good enough. Tweaks, additional role players, a small jump from Patrick Williams doesn’t solve this problem. It doesn’t work and they need to find a new solution, not a new brand of band-aid.

It sucks, because these three guys are really freaking good. Vucevic is supremely underrated and his value is overly attached to what Karnisovas gave up to get him. DeRozan is an All-Star. LaVine is probably the best player on the team at this point. The group is super talented, but not enough to get out of the lottery, and that’s why it’s difficult to make moves, but impossible not to.

Ultimately, any major decision should come down to value. Either direction. But lacking self awareness of who you are and what your ceiling can be is detrimental to the present and future of the franchise.

The Bulls have a ton of work to do to get out of the middle, and they can’t let aspirations of grandeur or fear of failure get in the way of making prudent decisions.

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