Michael Reinsdorf finds the right leader in Karnisovas

"Did we get the No. 1 person out there? I believe we did." - Michael Reinsdorf
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

Body

It was early in a season of resolve that was beginning to show cracks. The Bulls were stumbling along falling close to the NBA's Maginot Line of despair, 10 games under .500 near Christmas. Once passing that, there isn't much defense.

So the Bulls decided to hire Arturas Karnisovas as Executive Vice-President of Basketball Operations.

It became official Monday with the announcement by Bulls President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Reinsdorf during a media conference call. The new chief basketball executive didn't have a name back then. But he had a job, which was restoring order and excellence at a time Michael Reinsdorf called a potential turning point in franchise history.

Michael is confident the Bulls acquired the right general for the battles. And he conceded it began with an altruistic transfer of power from Karnisovas' predecessor, John Paxson.

"Did we get the No. 1 person out there? I believe we did," said Michael.

Michael Reinsdorf at the 2018 NBA Draft

"John Paxson came to me and my dad back — I think it was around December — and we started talking and he felt that we needed, the organization needed, to make a change and an upgrade," said Michael Reinsdorf. "He felt that we were too set in our ways. And when you look at it, our basketball department had long been one of the smallest departments in the league and it hadn't really grown with the times. In John's words, we needed to make changes in terms of the leadership and structure that would set up the Bulls for the next 10 to 15 years.

"During these conversations with John — and there were multiple conversations — John also made it clear to us that he would change his role or step down if that's what was best for the Chicago Bulls," Michael continued. "Because at the end of the day he's a Chicago Bull and that's what he cares most about. At the same time, I was kind of struggling, too, as most of you know, with trying and wanting to get the Bulls back on track. It was difficult because even though we made the decision to rebuild, we knew it was going to be hard in terms of losing. I looked at our draft record. We actually had some good drafts with Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter and Coby White. And then I look at a lot of our injuries and I saw what was going on and obviously that clearly affected our record. But at the end of the day, what John is really good at is simplifying the issue. When he said the next 10 to 15 years comment to me, that really, really stuck with me."

And so Michael Reinsdorf set out on the lonely path of responsibility.

This time it as on him.

While Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf remains "the boss," as Michael reiterated Monday, it was another significant leg in the race to succeed. This time Michael was getting the baton. His father remained back in Arizona. Paxson slowed from a sprint. Michael took off running.

Did we get the No. 1 person out there? I believe we did.

Michael Reinsdorf

"I started to spend a lot of time talking to a lot of people and really trying to understand other team's organizational structures," Michael said. "I wanted to understand what other teams were doing differently than us. I learned that there's no one way of building a strong and sustainable operation or team. But the two keys to success are having the right people and the right processes in place.

"During this time, John and I were talking and meeting on a regular basis. I started to share with him what I was learning," said Michael. "John continued to share with me what he was thinking. And it was kind of at this point that John indicated to my dad and me that he was no longer the right person to lead the Chicago Bulls. That's really the kind of person John is. I've always said when the time came to make a change, John would be the one to let us know. And that is indeed what ended up happening. I was really excited because it made the next steps clearer for me. We not only needed to grow our basketball operations department, but one of the most important steps I had to take was to find the right person to lead our organization. I believe — this is my view of the role ownership should play in sports, and certainly in terms of basketball —the ownership is responsible for hiring the right person to lead the basketball team and then should step to the side and allow the basketball people to do their work. If we pick the wrong person it can take years to recover. So we needed to get this right."

This wasn't about waiting for Godot, who never did arrive. It was getting out on the road. Perhaps not in search of Paradise, but something of finding an alchemist who might be able to turn the vibrant raw materials of the Bulls into franchise gold.

Arturas Karnisovas

"We identified needs and areas of importance in our basketball operations person," said Michael. "I loved the idea of bringing in someone from the outside to lead the organization. That's worked incredibly well on the business side (Michael's primary responsibility in recent years). Bringing people in who have new ideas and new ways of doing things different than the way we do it, I think, is terrific. So I kind of led the search. I spoke with other owners, former GMs, agents. I spoke to even the media, people at the league. I spoke to former NBA players, people that were in our organization. Anyone who I thought could help me. I wanted to know who was out there that was ready to take the next step in their careers and move into the lead role.

"The name that kept coming up at the time was Arturas'," said Michael. "Arturas' name came up as well as other really good candidates. One thing I definitely learned during this process, the Chicago Bulls are indeed an iconic franchise. And we are one that deserves a proven leader of our basketball operations department.

"So I was looking for someone with a wide range of experience, but, of course, someone who's passionate, hard working and really smart. That's kind of our mantra when we're hiring people at the Bulls," said Michael. "We also needed someone who had experience in helping to build a successful basketball organization, a person who strongly believed in the benefits of great player development. The talent internationally continues to grow and the ability to navigate international basketball is more important than ever. We wanted someone that would bring their own ideas and concepts and have a strong presence, a leader who will be process oriented in trying to build a winning team, someone who works collaboratively with others and surrounds himself with really smart people and develops talent in the basketball operations department. This job isn't just a one-person job. Building a winning team, as we all know, it's players first. But we need to have an organization that is strong up and down. And we wanted someone who is passionate about being part of the Chicago Bulls family."

We're fortunate enough not only to find someone who can lead this organization, but someone who's as qualified as Arturas

Michael Reinsdorf

Great players with effective organizations win championships.

"But there was still one thing left and that was my dad," said Michael, who also commended the Nuggets for their cooperation and exceptional organization. "At the end of the day, my dad, Jerry, is still the boss. So we had to have that final interview with my dad. We did that over video. And it was clear after that meeting that we had our new head of basketball operations.

"My dad said to me after the meeting, 'I never thought you would find anyone as great as Arturas.' So I knew we were done," said Michael. "That night we were able to negotiate a deal with Arturas. It took a few minutes and we were ready to move. This organization is at a crossroads and we're fortunate enough not only to find someone who can lead this organization, but someone who's as qualified as Arturas. At the end of the day, what matters most to me is we ended up getting the right person."

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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