Sam Smith joined Arturas Karnisovas on the phone where they discussed this Thursday's Draft Lottery, Draft philosophy, and more.
Bulls Executive Vice President - Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas has made several significant decisions since being hired by the Bulls in April. General Manager Gar Forman was released and replaced by 76ers executive Marc Eversley. Head Athletic Trainer Jeff Tanaka's contract was not picked up and Friday Head Coach Jim Boylen was dismissed. And now comes the hard part.
Perhaps the fun part if Karnisovas proves to be the talisman for the Bulls.
Karnisovas will represent the Bulls Thursday in the NBA's annual Draft Lottery, which will be conducted at the NBA offices in Secaucus, New Jersey at 7:30 p.m. central time on ESPN. The drawing was in Chicago the last year two years. Participants, with Karnisovas representing the Bulls, will appear from their remote locations because of the coronavirus precautions.
The personnel considerations then accelerate since the Bulls will know at what number they are drafting. They can begin to get more clarity regarding potential trades and roster moves and begin to refine the vision for this Bulls team in the 2020-21 season. Karnisovas said he will join other team executives in Orlando later this month, though he has not been to the "bubble" yet. The NBA recently changed course and is allowing executives from the eight excluded teams into the "bubble" for scouting and discussions. The NBA also announced late Tuesday following this interview that the eight teams eliminated from Orlando can gather their players on a voluntary basis for team activities similar to a training camp starting next month. The Draft will be Oct. 16.
Karnisovas Tuesday answered questions from Bulls.com about the Draft and his personnel emphasis as he assumes organizational responsibility.
Bulls.com: Why are you representing the Bulls in Thursday's virtual Lottery?
Karnisovas: How come? Hmmm. Probably not because I have the best luck.
Bulls.com: I guess we'll find out.
Karnisovas: I'm not a gambler. But just from the new look of the front office, with the changes happening now with the Chicago Bulls, I thought I would represent our organization.
Bulls.com: Media tradition requires me to ask you if you are bringing or holding a good luck charm as we saw in the past with Bulls representatives who got No. 1 picks like Jerry Krause and Steve Schanwald.
Karnisovas: I do not have one. I don't even know what kind of poker face I am going to bring to the virtual Lottery. Maybe a very serious Eastern European look. I'm not going to show too much emotion, but I don't know how I am going to handle it if we have good luck by maybe moving up. I'm hoping.
Bulls.com: Where will you be?
Karnisovas: We're going be in Chicago, in the Advocate Center. We're setting up a kit that was sent by ESPN. That will be set up there.
Bulls.com: How has this Draft preparation been different without personal workouts?
Karniovas: It's unusual, to say the least. We have done Zoom calls with prospects. We did a lot of video work and watched games. We had Zoom calls with the staff and conversations about the prospects. Over the years, I have been a proponent of, at the Combine, eliminating the workouts and just doing your job during the year and collecting information and checking backgrounds. The physicals that are done at the Combine are a big part of it with important information for the decisions. It's been OK; obviously unprecedented times. I don't think we will see those players in live action leading to the Draft. We've done a lot of work on videos and background and interviews that we will be able to make a decision.
Bulls.com: How many interviews have you done?
Karnisovas: I don't know the exact number, but we've done a lot.
Bulls.com: What have you gained from those conversations and how much does that influence your decision making?
Karnisovas: You get to know them. Listen to their point of view on things. Ask questions about their careers. It's just a small part of the process. The video evaluation and live evaluation is huge as well and then the background.
Bulls.com: Do you have any sense of how your draft process is different from the Bulls' in previous years?
Karnisovas: We added people to our organization who worked in various environments. We're going to come up with the best practices. I'm always looking for ways to improve. My biggest thing is how do you minimize the noise. Whether external from media and numerous mock drafts and how does that sway you one way or another. I am trying to eliminate that noise and have our internal process that we can come up with our own Draft board. There's a lot of experience in that Draft room. We're going to be able to make that decision on the player we are taking.
Bulls.com: Will you be the final decision maker?
Karnisovas: Yes, yes. I'll definitely take the input and there will be group discussions, probably smaller groups and then it's going to come down to me.
Bulls.com: What is your Draft priority?
Karnisovas: Draft priority? Probably adding talent. It's a talent driven league. Talent wins championships. So we're going to be focused on adding talent. It's going to be up to the coaches to maximize it. Just to get high upside guys on our team. Looking at our roster I love what I see. The players we have now, a young core with vets like Thad and Otto. I think we can build on that. This group definitely can do better than what they've showed the last couple of years.
Bulls.com: Considering your experience as a top executive with the Denver Nuggets, what do you primarily look for in the Draft?
Karnisovas: It depends on where you pick, right? Again, always in every situation we chased talent. The huge discussions around the league are the best available versus the need. But I think where we are going to be picking it is going to be the most talented guy available. And not to be too general, I'm looking for value. Even when we get into the second round, you can find valuable assets that most teams under appreciated. You look for opportunities. Would that be moving up? Moving down? There's always opportunities. It's obviously going to be a busy time to talk on the phone with numerous teams. We'll obviously look at opportunities to make our team better.
Bulls.com: The Nuggets when you were there had a lot of success with international players. Plus you have the international background. Is that somewhere we should look?
Karnisovas: It's probably a natural thing for us to get a better feel with what's going on internationally, connections and the international community we know. But at the end of the day you are looking for the best player available. Would that be international? Would that be American? The way we approached the Draft in the past wherever I have been has been just that.
Bulls.com: What is the Bulls' greatest need?
Karnisovas: Well, besides winning games? The consistency. I think right now we have a priority to find a head coach who will lead this group. We still don't have a schedule for 2020-21. There's a lot of uncertainty. We'll take our time selecting a coach and go from there. The needs are obviously confidence for this group that they can do it. Developing our own players. Some of the players took a step back last year, which we are trying to address. When Marc and I came in, we came in with the No. 1 priority of player care and player development. So we're going to address that.
Bulls.com: The seeding games in the bubble and playoffs just starting are a small sample. But it seems the league emphasis now is very much offensive. Is that the direction to head?
Karnisovas: Every team is trying to find their own style. Some teams play small ball. Some teams play more traditional. Every team relies on their stars and on talent. In terms of do they pay more attention to offense, they pay attention to both. But for us specifically, we have to address offense and how do you maximize your players offensively. They showed a lot of improvement defensively last year. I think offense is the one we are going to employ this year as well.
Bulls.com: Despite the Bulls' poor record last season, there seems to be the most depth at shooting guard and power forward. If you were to advance into the top four given this Draft's uncertainty, would you look for position to address a need?
Karnisovas: No, I think at that spot you pick the best available. The roster balance is going to all sort out. From experience, even in the past when we (in Denver) selected Nikola (Jokic) or selected Nurk (Jusuf Nurkic) there were six or seven bigs on our roster. The roster balance you can sort that out. You go after talent in that position.
Bulls.com: After arriving here, you said in a media call you believed this Draft is better than advertised despite no supposed franchise player. What have you seen to suggest that?
Karnisovas: Again, it's opinion. The way I am looking at the Draft is there is good balance across the Draft, good talent you can find. I think it's stronger than what a lot of people indicate. I'm pretty confident you can find value in the second round, in the first round. I think across it's a good balance of talent this year.
Bulls.com: We know the Bulls are slotted seventh now in the first round. What is the second round status and your philosophy with using second round picks?
Karnisovas: They just broke the ties. We have 44. We had 47. There's still a long way to go, but I am excited to have that pick as well. Washington is getting our second and we are getting Memphis'.
Bulls.com: If you look at the projected top 10 by various mock drafts and speculation, do you see All-Stars?
Karnisovas: Do I have a sense? No. Do I project? Yes. There are a bunch of guys, especially when a lot of those guys are very young. The difference I think with this Draft is there's going to be a huge variation of opinions just because of the unprecedented times and the last four or five months there's not a lot of movement. You can't watch workouts, so I think the opinions are going to be really different of one team and the next team. There's going to be a huge variation with mock drafts and whoever thinks where somebody is going to go. So I think there's going to be a lot of surprises.
Bulls.com: This Bulls roster as you noted has a lot of youth. Does that suggest trading a pick, moving down in the Draft?
Karnisovas: Again, it depends what opportunity is going to present itself. However, I always like to have a balance of the roster with rookie scale contracts, especially now with the expectations that the salary cap is going to go down. I think it's important to add a young player who can bring value not only with talent but also with the rookie scale contract.
Bulls.com: There are differences, but the consensus in these mock drafts has been Wiseman, Edwards, Ball and Toppin in the top five. Do you see it that way?
Karnisovas: I cannot talk about specific players. Like I said, the consensus is going to be so different from one team to another. The opinions of one team, what the top five looks like is going to be different from the other teams. The farther you are going to go the more the variations are going to grow because of the way we have been isolating so long and we haven't seen those players.
Bulls. com: Would you like to say who you'd select if you get the No. 1 pick?
Karnisovas: I would like to have the No. 1 pick. But the odds are so long. I would like to have better odds, actually. What are our odds, 7.5 percent to get a first? To get a second 7.8, 8.1 to get a third, 8.5 to get a fourth (32 percent top four). Those odds are pretty slim, but I still believe on Thursday maybe magic can happen.
Bulls.com: There are contract/free agency decisions to make on players like Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine. When it is that likely?
Karnisovas: It also depends on who you are going to select in the Draft. Those decisions can be made leading to the Draft (in October). The free agents are going to be two days right after the Draft (6 p.m. October 18). I think we'll have a better feel by then.
Bulls.com: With the salary cap situation and Bulls payroll, are there free agent possibilities?
Karnisovas: Again, we are going to be driven by what is going to happen during the Draft. Are we making a trade? Are we selecting a certain player? It depends on the roster balance at that point. We're going to look at what are the needs of the team and we'll address it in free agency. We are going to have a mid-level exception and a biannual.
Bulls.com: Last thing, mercifully. How much of a setback has it been for the Bulls not being able to compete and team bond in Orlando, especially with all the teams you have to beat getting that experience. Your players may not have competition until next year. Will it have an effect?
Karnisovas: It's a disadvantage. We're doing the best we can right now with having players work out individually at the facility and they are working out on their own. It is a disadvantage for us. We have to be creative in the offseason. From talking to players, they are looking forward. They want to get back on the court, they are hungry and they are excited about next season. It's kind of strange because there is no schedule; there's so much unknown and we have to wait.