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What Arturas Karnisovas can learn from Ryan Poles and the Chicago Bears rebuild

Will Gottlieb Avatar
April 29, 2024

Days removed from the NFL Draft, it’s hard to fully comprehend what Ryan Poles just pulled off.

The Chicago Bears are set up for sustained excellence. They’re a young team with upside set to play an exciting, modern brand of football. They have high-level veterans to lead alongside a generational quarterback talent who has more offensive weapons than he’ll know what to do with. The defense is set up to maintain the age-old identity that the Bears have always been known for.

For the first time in 40 years, the Bears will be really good.

It took a while to get to this point. When Poles took over in 2022, the Bears were old, expensive, and lacking assets. They had some young talent, but the team was on the down turn and needed a rebuild.

That’s a similar situation to the one Arturas Karnisovas currently finds himself in with the Chicago Bulls.

To get his team to where it is now, Poles methodically executed his plan. He didn’t take shortcuts or let good get in the way of great. He put himself in positions to get lucky, and most importantly, he trusted his fans to stick with him along the way.

It’s time for the Bulls to undergo a Bears-like transformation. Karnisovas should take a few lessons from Poles’ rebuilding masterpiece in making those decisions.

The methodical approach wins

Obviously, there are key differences between the NFL and NBA when it comes to team building. The draft represents completely different opportunities, where the volume of picks and rounds allows you to transform a roster in the NFL in ways that aren’t possible in the NBA.

But the principles are consistent: prioritize value, build through the draft, and develop players internally.

Executing that was going to be a process, and Poles was clear about that from the beginning.

In addition to time and patience, his rebuild required a willingness to make tough decisions to move on from franchise cornerstones from the prior regime like Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Robert Quinn, and ultimately Justin Fields in the pursuit of his plan.

Poles never lost sight of his ultimate goal, even when things seemed to be going well enough. He moved towards his vision of competing for championships and stayed committed to the plan. He was consistent in his messaging about that plan. He was clear with expectations. He displayed progress and didn’t take shortcuts.

As a result, he has built the foundation for sustained success.

Create your own luck

No matter what direction the Bulls take, it’s unlikely the results match those of the Bears.

Poles’ rebuild has reached the 99th percentile outcome, and it took some luck to get there. The Houston Texans won the final game of the 2023 season, which gave the Bears the first overall pick. Poles found the right trade partner in the Carolina Panthers, who took the wrong quarterback a year too early. The first-round pick he got in 2024 turned into the first pick in a draft class that had a generational prospect.

A lot has to go right for a rebuild to succeed to that degree. Some of that is out of your own control. But part of the challenge is putting yourself in positions to get lucky in the first place.

Because he was working towards a bigger picture, he was able to strategically take steps backward to collect more assets and weapons he could use along the way. This also gave him the flexibility to pivot out of situations as needed.

Poles’ record is not immaculate. Trading a second-round pick for Chase Claypool headlines the lowlights, but Poles was able to withstand that mistake because he had insulated himself so well with assets he collected in other moves.

Chicago fans will be there no matter what

The Bears are typically near the bottom of the league in attendance

That’s because Soldier Field, which seats 61,500 people, is the smallest stadium in the NFL.

Still, Soldier Field is at nearly 100 percent capacity every single season.

The same is true for the Bulls. The United Center is the largest stadium in the NBA, seating nearly 21,000, and the Bulls lead the league in attendance nearly every season.

The fans will show up through a rebuild. They will show up through years on the treadmill of mediocrity. And they will show up when it’s time to raise another banner. Those fans can withstand a few rough seasons if there is a clear vision toward a future that leads out of the depths of mediocrity, where most Chicago teams have lived for decades.

What will this look like for the Bulls?

For Poles and the Bears, the job isn’t over yet. On paper, the Bears are set up for success, but they still need to succeed on the field.

That’s the fun part.

The Bulls have to begin with the hard part. That means capitalizing on their own players at the peak of their value by trading for picks and young players. They may have missed the boat on trading Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, but they can still cash in on Alex Caruso.

If they can’t sign-and-trade DeRozan, they should allow him to walk in free agency to give themselves a chance to move into the next era. If they can’t get positive value for LaVine and Vucevic, weather their contracts until they can. No need to attach assets to dump them.

The Bulls should even explore trade markets for Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu. They don’t need to trade either, but the Bulls likely won’t be able to build a championship-level infrastructure around White and Dosunmu before their contracts expire. Getting a haul of picks would help them bottom out and build through the draft. It would sting to trade promising young players, but if Bears fans can survive a Fields trade, they can survive this too.

The Bulls are at a crossroads. If they continue down their current path in the middle, their present fortunes won’t improve and their future will become even more bleak. Instead, they must use this opportunity to start building the right way.

Their rebuild may not materialize in the same way that it did for Poles, but Karnisovas can put the Bulls in a similar situation by following the principles that have now proven to yield results for the Bears.

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