Artūras Karnišovas reflects on season, missing Lonzo, Patrick's development, and more
The Bulls basketball chief also looked towards the offseason: "I hope for continuity because we're constantly competing against teams that have been together for three, four, five years."
Remind Me Later •
The way the Bulls once so promising season ended in the disappointing 4-1 playoff series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, some Bulls fans were talking about being patients.
Bulls Executive Vice-President Artūras Karnišovas Friday agreed, though he spelled it differently: Patience.
"Not the way we want to finish, but we got back to the postseason and we have time now to figure it out, what we're going to do this summer," Karnišovas told reporters Friday in his season ending State of the Bulls. "I hope for continuity because we're constantly competing against teams that have been together for three, four, five years. Results come obviously when you keep the same group longer. You're playing against Milwaukee, against Philly, against Boston, against Miami; they've been together for a long time."
No surprise that's the East Final Four.
"Continuity is valuable," Karnišovas agreed. "This experience from playing together for seven months for them is going to be a good experience. We'll figure out what additions we need. Is that shooting? Is that defense? Is that size? Athleticism? So we're going to sit down and figure it out with the group.''
Yes, yes, yes and yes, though not as much and not as many as that suggests.
This season really was Step 1 despite looking like a leap into title contention for so much of the season. But Karnišovas, who doesn't say much but sees a lot, likely understood with his magic act last summer of making a rebuilding disappear.
Karnišovas' clever manipulation of the salary cap and free agency and trades netted point guard Lonzo Ball, All-Star DeMar DeRozan and defensive whiz Alex Caruso in addition to a draft abracadabra that reached for Chicagoan Ayo Dosunmu in the second-round. Karnišovas' conjuring drew gasps around the NBA as the Bulls led the Eastern Conference on and off into the All-Star break before a late season stumble part injury, part schedule, part illness and part wear.
It probably wasn't surprising to even Karnišovas because a Bulls continuation to the league crown in the first season together for virtually the entire team would have been one of the most unparalleled rises in league history. As it is, Karnišovas remains a top contender for Executive of the Year.
"The small sample we had at the beginning of the season I thought was pretty good," said Karnišovas. "We understand our roster and any shortcomings. I think it's also a long season, lots of lineups; it's very hard to find your identity defensively when your lineup is constantly changing. We had a very hard time, especially in the second-half with that when our defense dropped to the 20s. There's definitely a lot of room to improve. For us to compete, we have to be top 10 in both offense and defense. We'll try to figure out how to get there. It's very difficult to pinpoint when you have 29 different lineups during the season. Remembering what we had to go through in December and January, pretty much coming to the Advocate Center and not knowing what the lineup is even going to look like. Somebody is Covid positive, somebody just tweaked a knee, somebody is out. So for Billy (Donovan) and his staff and what they had to deal with, and our performance staff was wonderful, too, this gym was just everyday busy with our player development guys trying to keep guys that had low minute runs, keep those guys in shape. It's been a very challenging year.
"There is value to get back to the postseason for the first time in five years," Karnišovas noted. "It's a new team. They were together since October. So I think this group is still forming. They're going to have another summer. Leading into the training camp, there's going to definitely be improvements being together for a longer time. I think another year under the belt will serve them well."
The absences of Ball for the second-half of the season and Caruso for about six weeks, and Patrick Williams to start almost all season obviously compromised the defense that was top 10 early in the season. Obviously, as shown against the Bucks in the playoffs, perimeter shooting was a concern as well as size along the front line. The free agency status of Zach LaVine, of course, looms significantly over everything.
But the core players of LaVine, DeRozan and Vucevic were a match for most teams, especially on offense, and Karnišovas indicated this summer is more likely a fixer upper than a new foundation like last summer. The Bulls have the No. 18 pick in the draft and a salary cap exception to be determined depending on whether they are in the luxury tax.
"We've always been ready for what comes our way," said Karnišovas. "So hopefully we can keep the core together and like you (media) said, work around the margins. We're gonna look at free agents and see what else we need. We're gonna be in the draft. We still have Portland's (future No. 1 lottery protected) pick. So we have a couple assets (for trades) and we'll see what happens."
Karnišovas keeps his cards close to the vest, but last summer demonstrated he knows how to draw aces.
"I would say that there were a lot of good moments in the first half of the season, and we're really happy that we ended up with DeMar and Zach playing in the All-Star Game," Karnišovas said. "However, it's an up-and-down season, not the way we wanted it to finish. But there's a lot of positives. I thought that first game and that second game against Milwaukee was exactly how we wanted it to go. I think (games) in the playoffs. It was special to watch the passion in that building, and I hate to disappoint them. Even when we went on the road we were feeling like we were playing in Chicago. So the support we had from fans was amazing. I really enjoyed this year in terms of experience.
"We got a lot of work to do," Karnišovas admitted. "I understand that this roster is just one year old. Playing together for a longer period of time is gonna contribute to familiarity and feeling more comfortable in tough situations."
Karnisovas acknowledged there is uncertainty regarding Ball's troublesome knee issues, especially because of his value to the team this season.
"We missed him greatly this year," Karnišovas said. "We missed his size, we missed him pushing the break. We got a little bit slower the second half of the season. We missed his eight attempts per game from three at 42 percent. But we also have to pay attention to what's going on there and we'll try and figure it out this summer.
"I'm hoping for durability, I'm a positive guy," Karnišovas said with a smile. "We're gonna look at everything and we're gonna try to get them healthy this summer leading into training camp. I thought that this group of players was really, really good during the season; resilient group, next in line mentality. Nobody complained when the guy would come back and he would lose his minutes. They were really supportive. So I really enjoyed this year, working with this group. I expect them to be healthy (next season). But again any additions that we're gonna make to the roster, it's more towards versatility and being flexible because the season is long and you have to have a good quality of roster for flexibility."
Karnišovas also praised the stability that Nikola Vucevic brought in calling him perhaps the team's most irreplaceable player.
"He was one of our most durable players," Karnišovas said. "I think if you think about the rotations, guards going in and out, wings going in and out, I think he would have been probably the hardest guy to replace. But he stayed available and he's been a vital part of what we run on offense and all year long just being available, he's been great for us."
A popular topic for almost everyone around the team has been the possibilities and promise of Patrick Williams.
"I think there were a lot of positives with Patrick," Karnišovas said. "He's been out for five months and then came back and it took him a while to just get a feel. I think his skill set is pretty complete. What he can do athletically not a lot of players can do in our league. I just think the biggest thing for him is experience and confidence. We're always gonna ask him to be more aggressive. It's hard to think that he's 20 years old and making those adjustments playing against the world champions (to average 21 points the last two games). That's gonna serve him well as experience and he's gonna come back better next year. He has a huge summer in front of him; he's committed."
Karnišovas said starting the season late was a setback for Coby White, but he liked what he saw of the season.
"I see a lot of growth in Coby's year because he's never been in these situations," said Karnišovas. "He's been very good. Whatever Billy asked of him, sometimes he would start and sometimes come off the bench. He's never been in the playoffs, so that was new for him. Just emotionally, how to control emotions, it's a learning experience for him. How to knock down shots and how to play with constantly changing rosters in terms of lineups, I thought it was positive for Coby. He came in during the season. It took him some time to get it going. But I thought he had huge strides. 38.5 percent from three is pretty good. So there's a lot of positives to his season." And Karnisovas expects even more for the Bulls next season
Patience and patients? That's what's known as a homophone, words that sound alike but are spelled differently. That's right, write it: Bulls in '23?
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