Scottie Pippen says he was fired by Bulls from advisor role

Scottie Pippen says he was fired by Bulls from advisor role

In an appearance on the Thuzio Live & Unfiltered podcast, Bulls legend Scottie Pippen says he was fired from his senior advisor role with the organization.

The interview with Pippen was recorded ahead of the 2020 NBA All-Star game, but was released on Spotify on April 15. The above admission from Pippen comes in the opening moments of the podcast when the host, Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune, asked Pippen what his role with the team was while introducing him.

"You all know the resume, but let's run through it a little bit because it's pretty gaudy, kind of fun to say these things," Greeinstein said. "Six-time NBA champion, seven-time All-Star, eight-time All-NBA first team defense... Named one of the greatest 50 NBA players of all-time, had his No. 33 jersey retired by the Chicago Bulls.

"And you're an ambassador for the Bulls, is that right?"

"I was," Pippen responded. "I got fired this year. I didn't really want it to be in the public, but I'm no longer employed by the Bulls."

Before the 2019-20 season began, the Bulls and Pippen met to discuss his role now that he appears regularly on ESPN's "The Jump" and spends most of his time where that show is filmed. Pippen wanted to keep his gig as Bulls ambassador, but when the Bulls asked for specific commitments, the two sides couldn't agree on compensation, according to a source. The Chicago Sun-Times was the first to report on March 12 that Pippen was "no longer in his role as team ambassador."

Pippen is currently listed as a 'Special Advisor to the President & COO' in the Bulls' staff directory, which is updated to included Arturas Karnisovas as executive vice president of basketball operations. 

"It's probably a good thing, right?" Pippen said to Greenstein. "I like to associate myself with winning."

Pippen then addressed comments he made on "The Jump" during All-Star weekend, when he said the "Bulls' starting lineup aren't true starters in this league."

"I did say that. I do feel like the talent level — maybe Zach LaVine, but — I feel the talent level that the Bulls have right now is below what it needs to be in the NBA," Pippen said to Greenstein. "I do feel they have some young players that are up and coming. So I’m not really knocking those players. But I think they gotta get more talent, some free agents, if they’re going to be able to try to compete night, period, night in and night out."

These comments were made at a point in the season when the Bulls were 19-36 and missing Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr., among others, due to various injuries. Those three eventually trickled back into the rotation post-All-Star break, but LaVine missed the team's last five games before the NBA season was suspended, and the Bulls' record is currently frozen at 22-43.

Greenstein then asked Pippen what he believes is behind Markkanen's regression, specifically. Markkanen averaged career-lows in points (14.7), rebounds (6.3) and field goal attempts (11.8), while shooting career-worst marks from the field (42.5%) and 3-point range (34.4%) in his third season. 

"I heard somebody (in the crowd) say no coach," Pippen said, addressing a heckler in the crowd that responded to Greenstein's question. "But I always like to point the finger at the player. He didn’t work hard enough in the offseason because we’re not seeing the fruit of his labor."

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Tom Thibodeau, Daryl Morey offer strong endorsements of Arturas Karnisovas

Tom Thibodeau, Daryl Morey offer strong endorsements of Arturas Karnisovas

The Bulls got their man, and their man is no slouch. Arturas Karnisovas, one of the more well-respected veteran executives in the NBA, is on the cusp of officially signing on to be the organization's new head of basketball operations.

The league-wide veneration for Karnivoas that has trickled out in the wake of his reported hiring is telling of his aptitude. As is the fact that, in the past four years, Karnisovas has advanced late into the interview processes for front office roles with both the Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, been promoted from assistant general manager to general manager of the Nuggets in 2017, and rebuked the Philadelphia 76ers when they came calling for a new general manager in 2018.

Where does that respect come from? The good news for Bulls fans is the answer to that question is multi-pronged. Since the announcement of his hiring, multiple highly-regarded ex-co-workers of Karnisovas' have come out and made their endorsements known — all for fresh reasons.

Tom Thibodeau, for one, worked with Karnisovas when USA Basketball won the gold medal at the 2014 World Cup in Spain. The former Bulls’ coach joined NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan on his ESPN-AM 1000 radio show Thursday morning to discuss Karnisovas’ imminent hire to run basketball operations in Chicago.

“I think it’s a great hire for the Bulls. He’s hard working, has a lot of integrity, very pragmatic,” Thibodeau told Kaplan. “There are a lot of positive things in place there. I think he’ll add a lot to that.

“He has a great demeanor. He’s a very bright guy. I think he’ll be methodical in how he’ll analyze everything.”

Karnisovas’ connections with the international committee jump out in almost every conversation regarding the former Nuggets general manager. One of those relationships is with longtime Bulls international scout Ivica Dukan, who was instrumental along with Jerry Krause in drafting Toni Kukoc.

“As we all know, there’s a lot of talent internationally,” Thibodeau told Kaplan. “I know from my experience with Team USA, Arturas knew those players inside and out. International players were instrumental in Denver.”

Daryl Morey, the long-time general manager of the Houston Rockets and revered as a founding father of the modern front office in his own right, added his voice to that chorus in an appearance on the McNeil and Parkins Show on 670 The Score Thursday afternoon. Karnisovas got his break on the team side in Houston as an international scout, working under Morey from 2008-2012.

"Arturas is really, really great at his job," Morey told McNeil and Parkins. "He just rose through our ranks so fast, we unfortunately couldn’t keep him in Houston cause Denver had a big job for him, and now you guys have an even bigger job, and I think Bulls fans are going to be thrilled. He’s built a team from a non-contender to a contender in Denver and I think he’s got a very good chance to do that for you guys."

"He’s got a great basketball mind. He also has great judgement. And then on top of all that, he’s a great leader. So, he’s someone who, when I first got there, our international scouting was I thought a little bit behind other teams. He took it from where it was to I think one of the best in the league before he moved on to Denver."

Morey added to that endorsement descriptions of a thoughtful analyst, deft communicator and compelling salesman. All of those traits will be essential to Karnisovas as he looks to revamp the Bulls' front office and front-facing perception to players around the league. They stem from his path from decorated international player to highly-regarded executive, and should help in the recruiting process.

"I think he’s almost like the perfect combo you might want," Morey said on The Score of the weight Karnisovas puts on analytics versus his instincts as a former player. "That’s not his lead thing (analytics), but what I can tell you is what he will do — and what he did do for us — is he understands it, he knows who to hire, he knows when to use it, when not to use it. He’s very thoughtful about it. And I think over his time with us and then with Denver, who is also a very advanced team, very well run by Tim (Connelly) there. You know, he’s able to take that information, contextualize it and make great decisions with it, and that’s where you’ll see his strengths.

"He lives and breathes basketball, and I’m excited for you guys to get to know him better because he’s a great human being. He’s frankly a much better communicator and someone that people just want to be around (more) than myself, and I think that’s another real skill for him that will come to play in free agency. Players are gonna really want to work with him."

P.J. Carlesimo coached Karnisovas at Seton Hall before Karnisovas went back overseas to play professionally. He sang praises most high to Waddle & Silvy Thursday afternoon, also on ESPN-AM 1000.

"He will," Carlesimo told Waddle & Silvy when asked if Karnisovas could put the Bulls back on the map. "I think they've got somebody that understands how you build a team... He understands people maybe moreso than anything. People are going to love him when they meet him, when they hear him talk.

"I really think this is going to be a home run for the Bulls."

That should be music to Bulls' fans ears. Karnisovas' work is just getting started — and a modicum of patience should be afforded — but his track record and sterling reputation leave every indication that he's up to the task ahead.

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Bulls complete second round of talks with Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas

Bulls complete second round of talks with Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas

The Bulls first interviewed Arturas Karnisovas for their head of basketball operations on Tuesday, sources said, and the two parties talked again Wednesday afternoon via remote conferencing as the Denver Nuggets general manager became a centerpiece of the search.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported that the second interview involved Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who, at this stage of his career, only gets involved in matters of business when they're close to being finalized. Bulls president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf has orchestrated this search and, along with executive vice president John Paxson, first interviewed Karnisovas.

The Bulls hope to have the first part of the hiring process finalized sooner than later, sources said, particularly since the new hire will be granted authority to build out the front office's infrastructure. Utah Jazz general manager Justin Zanik interviewed for the position on Monday.

Also on Wednesday, news broke that the Bulls staged recent interviews with other candidates. NBC Sports Chicago reported that the Bulls interviewed former Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, Wojnarowski's reported that the Bulls interviewed former Hawks GM Wes Wilcox and The Athletic reported that the Bulls interviewed former Raptors, 76ers and Suns executive Bryan Colangelo. Some of these interviews were less formal and, a source said, possibly scheduled for information gathering purposes or for other front-office roles.

There is substantial interest around the league for potential positions in the Bulls' revamped front office, a source said.

Following a collegiate career at Seton Hall and wildly successful international playing career that included two Olympics appearances, Karnisovas worked for the NBA for five years before joining the Rockets as an international scout. He joined the Nuggets’ front office in 2013 and was promoted to general manager under Connelly in June 2017. 

In his time in Denver, he is credited in some part for the Nuggets snaring star center Nikola Jokic with the No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, as well as recent lottery hits, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. Along with Connelly, he helped pioneer the construction of one of the most touted international scouting departments in the league.

Sources said Karnisovas and Zanik, who also interviewed with Michael Reinsdorf and Paxson, conveyed that they view Paxson as a resource moving forward, although Paxson initiated much of this need for a more modern front office and will be stepping into an advisory role. It's unknown if Paxson was involved in the interviews of Ferry, Wilcox and Colangelo. Reinsdorf also has held solo discussions with some of the candidates. Karnisovas is the only known candidate to interview with Jerry Reinsdorf.

Whomever is hired will have full autonomy on basketball operations, including deciding the future of the coaching staff, sources said.

Yahoo Sports' Vincent Goodwill first reported Karnisovas' status as a likely front-runner.

Sources said Michael Reinsdorf, who initially expressed hesitation because of Zanik’s player agency ties, was impressed by Zanik’s communication skills, player relationships and knowledge of the collective bargaining agreement. Michael Reinsdorf has made clear he wants to build front office depth.

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