Artūras Karnišovas addresses media following NBA Trade Deadline

The NBA’s final trading day Thursday was an active day for Bulls; if not the Chicago Bulls.

Because in a frantic basketball flea market with more than a dozen trades and 40 players exchanging uniforms, nine former Bulls were traded. The current team, however, perhaps to the dismay of some fans if not the overall concern of team management, elected to double down on this current Bulls roster as not only a team capable of a run toward the playoffs, but perhaps with some unexpected success once they arrive.

“It’s an exciting time for our league and front offices,” acknowledged Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Artūras Karnišovas. “But at the same time it was pretty much a buyer’s market and we wanted to be competitive. We wanted this group to be cohesive and start playing for each other, and we’ve seen signs in the last 30, 31 games (19-13 heading into Thursday’s gimme putt game with the injury-depleted Memphis Grizzlies). When we were 4-15, I was not very happy. I’m much happier now.

“Would like to smile more,” agreed Karnišovas, “but this team is very competitive in every game. We have aspirations to compete for the playoffs in such a conference with parity. So I am looking forward to watching these players compete with 30, 31 games to go. A lot of positive signs I’m seeing during the season. Obviously, the emergence of Coby (White) and Coby’s on a different planet right now the way he is playing. I would (vote him) for Most Improved Player. Ayo (Dosunmu) improved. He’s competing on a very high level. DeMar (DeRozan) has been our vet who leads this group and he’s our closer. Vooch (Nikola Vučević) has been our constant double/double machine and contributing to winning and everything he does on the floor is making winning plays.
"Obviously, Drum (Andre Drummond) has been fantastic this year. And just the emergence of our young guys, Julian (Phillips) and Dalen (Terry). And I forgot to mention Pat (Williams), who’s obviously injured now but he’s gotten better; he was on a tear in the month of December averaging 14 points."

“There's so many positive stories around this team,” Karnišovas insisted. “The biggest thing for me is you look at every option that's out there to improve your team and we didn't see anything that was going to make us better. We would take a step back (in the proposed trades), which we don’t want. We want to stay competitive. We have an obligation to this organization and this fan base and this city to stay competitive and compete for the playoffs. That’s what we are doing.”

At this point with the Bulls 24-27 before Thursday, it’s perhaps a controversial — if also risky — stance with the Bulls not making a move for the third consecutive trade deadline period. Though they have made additions in the buyout period later this season and likely will again with an open roster spot. The Bulls last trade was August 2021.

Though Karnišovas reiterated in a Zoom session with media Thursday afternoon as the deadline passed that the 2021 offseason period when the team acquired Lonzo Ball, DeRozan and Alex Caruso on the heels of the Vučević blockbuster trade demonstrated they can be aggressive and assertive with the appropriate opportunity, and that they will be. 

Karnišovas insisted it just wasn’t the time given the management’s desire — Karnišovas said ownership left the large decisions on whether to rebuild, recoup or retain solely to him — to make a run for the playoffs these last two months.  While Karnišovas didn’t exactly come out and say it, he seemed to suggest the Eastern Conference is not as strong as some believe, especially with injuries to stars like the 76ers Joel Embiid. The Knicks’ recently acquired OG Anunoby also underwent a procedure Thursday which could keep him out a month.

As an aside, Karnišovas confirmed Bulls All-Star Zach LaVine had his foot surgery Thursday and likely will need a four-to-six month recovery period as stated previously. Karnišovas used the phrase “in a perfect world” about seeing Ball back playing for the Bulls next season. He also said the team hopes to retain free agent DeRozan after this season.

Meanwhile, it did seem to some observers that several of the top East teams improved, especially the New York Knicks even with the Anunoby news. The Knicks appeared to pull off the coup of the day with the acquisition from Detroit of sniper Bojan Bogdanović and gritty guard Alec Burks. The rumors had been the Pistons were holding out for multiple first-round picks, but got much less.

It also seemed some East teams addressed needs, like Milwaukee acquiring defensive pest Patrick Beverley, the Celtics adding another defender in Jaden Springer and Xavier Tillman from Memphis. The Heat previously had acquired scorer Terry Rozier, the 76ers got a marksman in Buddy Hield as the Pacers swapped with Hield and acquired former Bull Doug McDermott. The Pacers made their big move recently getting All-Star Pascal Siakam from Toronto. Charlotte, Toronto and Brooklyn also all made deals, most of which seemed toward a summer reset.

The former Bulls moved Thursday, by the way, were McDermott, Beverley, Robin Lopez, Thad Young, Ryan Arcidiacono, Cameron Payne, Troy Brown, Daniel Gafford, Otto Porter and Thad Young.

Though Karnišovas also doubted the significance and general conventional wisdom of making trades at midseason.

“(The) mission this year is making a push for the playoffs,” Karnišovas reiterated. “Then it depends on the result and evaluating individual players and the draft and free agency; every season we want to be competitive, especially now with parity in the East. We’re going to compete and make adjustments at the end of the year. When we came here (the) Bulls missed (the playoffs three of four years). With those thoughts in mind at the end of the day our group believes in this team, and we’ll see what they can do in the last 30 games.

“I think the deadline, usually those moves don’t make you better; right?” Karnišovas insisted. “Last year we were 14-9 after the trade deadline and that was one of the best records, right? How do you improve at the trade deadline? It’s very hard to do. The actions that were on the table were taking a step backward; obviously, we had no intentions to do so.”

There is some truth and mixed results to Karnišovas’ claim about mid course adjustments as many of the biggest names who have been traded at the deadline didn’t result in any immediate improvement for their new teams. Some of these have included Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, James Harden. Kyrie Irving, Ray Allen and Gary Payton without much immediate needle movement. Though in some cases it set teams up for advancing in following seasons. The Lakers last trading deadline reformed their team and made it to the conference finals. There also have been in season blockbusters that even have elevated treading water teams to championships, like the Lakers with Pau Gasol, the Pistons with Rasheed Wallace and Dikembe Mutombo to the 76ers in the Toni Kukoč trade.

Karnišovas’ underlying message was first that under his tenure there’s never going to be one of those tear-it-down rebuilds that critics often advocate.

“The ‘shakeup’ doesn't guarantee you success,” Karnišovas emphasized. “The words like rebuild thrown around, I think this group gives you the best chance to compete. It doesn’t guarantee success, but we are a competitive bunch.

“In this particular moment, it’s a buyers market and we are trying to stay competitive and trying not to take a step back,” reminded Karnišovas. “You look at all the options and we didn’t see anything we thought could improve our team. Since I came here to Chicago, I wanted to have a competitive team. We came up with a formula in 2021. We had somewhat of a success, took a step back with some injuries. My objective doesn’t change. I’d like to compete and I’d like compete with the best teams.”

Karnišovas also suggested the Bulls aren’t as far from being one of those teams as some believe.

There obviously have been some issues in Milwaukee with the coaching shakeup, injuries and aging core. The 76ers aren’t sure Embiid even returns. The Celtics aren’t big up front and rely on sometimes streaky three-point shooting. The lately hot Cavaliers were no one’s favorites just weeks ago. Miami has stumbled in recent weeks and so has the Magic.

So who’s so dominant?

It isn’t an era of super teams anymore like the 80s Lakers and Celtics, the 90s Bulls, the 2000s Spurs and the recent Warriors, trending down lately even still with Steph Curry. Karnišovas didn’t quite go there, but his comments suggested the belief of more of a level playing field than others predict and that continuity, a familiar phrase the last few years in Chicago, has served well teams like his former Denver Nuggets. They often resisted major changes from missing the playoffs to winning an NBA title. No one went so far as to suggest that for now, but Karnišovas clearly believes there’s more to see there with the Bulls and perhaps better to take a closer look than to moving on.

“The standings are that everybody is bunched up; you are three games away from sixth place,” Karnišovas said perhaps anticipating Memphis too quickly. “You still have 30 games to go. This group is playing better the last two months. I put faith in this group to make a push for playoffs.

“You always look to improve your team; those scenarios were not coming up,” Karnišovas said. “We decided to stay with this group because that gives us the best chance to compete the year and going into the summer. We control our (first round draft) pick, we have a lot of our young guys who took a step forward. We are excited about that. The combination with our vets we have right now, I think it’s a pretty good formula. I’m excited about with 30 games to go.

“I don’t know what the final result will be, in the play-in or playoffs,” said Karnišovas. “We are going for the playoffs (fifth or sixth in the East). It’s a result driven business and I get it. I'll take responsibility for failures. But at this point, it's very early to say what is success, what's not success. We have 30 games to go we'll see what this team can do.”

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