Artūras Karnišovas addresses media following play-in tournament

It felt like all that was missing Saturday in the Advocate Center was Bulls Executive Vice-president of Basketball Operations Artūras Karnišovas with a skull in his hand mimicking the Hamlet skull soliloquy.

Alas, poor Bulls Big Three, I knew them well.

But not likely anymore because in the wake of the Bulls 112-91 season-ending play-in tournament loss Friday to the Miami Heat, Karnišovas Saturday signaled the death of the three stars alignment the Bulls put together in 2021as their potential championship representation.

But after consecutive losing seasons, the failure to make the playoffs since 2022 and injuries that often have limited Zach LaVine, Karnišovas effectively declared the end to the LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vučević triumvirate.

“This group, something doesn’t work,” Karnišovas said during the press conference. “I have to find ways to find a group that’s going to make improvements. We’ve done it for a couple years now and it hasn’t worked. Everything is on the table. It goes without saying that the conclusion of the season fell short of expectations regardless of injury, status. Any season where we don’t end deep into the postseason requires close examination, which has already begun. I can talk about all of our players through a positive lens, but in totality as a team we didn’t meet expectations. We’re not here for the play-in. It’s a team game and we have to make changes to fix things. I take full responsibility for where we are right now. I know that our fans aren’t satisfied with where we finished the season and neither am I. 

“Analysis will start right now and go into free agency,” Karnišovas declared. “I think we’re going to be pretty aggressive the way we showed before (summer 2021) going into the draft and free agency. We obviously can’t roll (out) the same team again and expect different results. We definitely understand that even with some of the positivity with the clutch wins and overtime wins, we’re still at 39 (wins) and at the play-in. We have to somehow generate an additional 10 wins. Even with injuries we suffered this year, we need to change things. I’m thinking about winning and that’s why I am here. I am not here to stay in the middle. The formula we came up (with) three years ago, I thought it was working. Until couple injuries and we’re going to have to find these answers in this offseason. Obviously, the results are not what we wanted and I totally get it and it’s on me to figure it out. There’s a lot of great things in certain individual players, and a lot of young guys who took a step forward and it’s positive but in totality as a group it didn’t work. Going into this offseason, we’re going to be more aggressive to look to improve this team. We’ve been creative in the past and going into this offseason basically everything is on the table, so we are going to look at everything.”

Karnišovas didn’t specifically discount the possibility of a rebuild, but it didn’t sound close to that path with indications of new deals with DeRozan and Patrick Williams. Both are free agents, Williams restricted, and Karnišovas indicated there is mutual interest regarding returns. 

Karnišovas also said he is confident in coach Billy Donovan and the work he has done and was indecisive on the return of Lonzo Ball. Karnišovas continued to emphasize substantial changes in the roster and being aggressive in the trade and free agency markets for the first time since the summer of 2021.

He indicated because of injuries, inconsistent performances and changing rotations his goal of continuity didn’t work as Donovan reiterated after Friday’s loss. Karnišovas didn’t specially mention LaVine, who has been subject to trade speculation.

Karnišovas also said he views the need to increase payroll into the excess salary cap luxury tax only if the team is on a sure trajectory to a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference and thus a first round playoff series with the home court.

“I won’t be satisfied until we bring a championship to the city of Chicago,” Karnišovas said. “That’s why I was hired, that’s why I am here, and my mission remains unchanged. It's a result-driven business and I'll be evaluated based on results and I expect that. Diving into this off-season I put an emphasis on turning this program around. I like what Billy has done here the last four years. Billy is someone you build a program with. He’s a very good coach and even a better human being. He’s obviously a great leader, great coach and I’ve got to do a better job to help him, to find a group. We put emphasis on cohesion this year and I think this group kind of bonded. In totality it didn’t work and I have to find these answers. We established a winning expectation, we defined a profile for the Bulls player, and we put an emphasis on player development. It is also on me to facilitate Billy with the resources he needs to build a team that can be successful consistently.”

— On DeRozan: “DeMar’s been great for us for three years. He’s been invested in the city of Chicago and has been really great to our young guys, so both sides are interested in continuing so we’ll see what happens in free agency.”

— On Williams: “The disappointing thing is we lost Patrick for the season, and the last three months. I wish we could’ve seen this team with Patrick on it. We lack, obviously, size without him. The both sides are mutually, they want him to be here. We’ll approach free agency as always.”

— On Ball: “He’s improving. We’ll see where he is at next couple of months (if) no setbacks we’ll see where he is at in terms of on court and basketball side so we’ll figure it out. We’re just going to wait and see his progression the next couple months. He’s progressing well. Everything is looking with no setbacks.”

— On paying the luxury tax: “My approach looking at the luxury tax is if you can prove that your team is going to be in the top four you go in the luxury tax. It just makes no sense to be in the play-in if you’re going to be in the luxury tax. As long as I can put a team together that is going to be competing top four in the East, that’s when you start to look at retaining guys and go in the luxury tax.” 

So much for these Bulls’ players gibes, their gambols and their songs, the flashes of merriment. Yes, for the Bulls the game’s again afoot. Once more into the breach for Artūras.

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