If his handling of Jim Boylen's firing proved one thing, it’s that Artūras Karnišovas works on his timeline, tuning out the outside noise.
So while some may speculate that having Boylen’s replacement in place for the league-sanctioned, voluntary group workouts occurring Sept. 21-Oct. 6 at Advocate Center would be prudent... Well, Karnišovas addressed that as you might expect.
“We’re not going to put pressure on ourselves to hire a coach by then,” Karnišovas said. “If that happens, it happens.”
Whenever Karnišovas makes his first head coaching hire as Bulls’ executive vice president, the to-do list is lengthy. Here’s one stab at it:
Work in unison with the players and management
This may seem like a simple task, but its execution largely has evaded the Bulls of late. Perhaps not since Tom Thibodeau’s third season, in which the Bulls overcame myriad injuries to win a 2013 first-round series over the Brooklyn Nets, have all three parts synced in harmony.
Thibodeau’s final season in 2014-15 is in the team picture for unhappiest 50-win season in NBA history. Jimmy Butler put Fred Hoiberg on blast his first season, then Hoiberg gamely shouldered a full rebuild task. Jim Boylen’s initial “shock and awe” tactics aligned with management but alienated some players and, when he righted that ship to enter last season with optimism, he spread himself too thin trying to perform managerial tasks.
This is an opportunity for an organizational reset.
Karnišovas has talked almost reverentially about the need to have the management-coaching relationship hum. And Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone, whom Karnišovas helped hire while working under Tim Connelly in Denver, praised Karnisovas’ touch.
The fact Karnišovas and general manager Marc Eversley have repeatedly stressed player development is a sign they’ll try to hire a teacher. Karnišovas cited “player development, someone who puts relationships with players first and is a good communicator” as the main criteria for his hire.
And while front offices hire coaches to coach, Karnišovas and Eversley own strong opinions on style of play. They’ve also worked for franchises praised for their organizational alignment.
The initial list of candidates is filled with coaches whose reputations are those of being comfortable in their own skin. Ideally, the hire will be someone who can accept managerial input while commanding the locker room.
Solve the perplexing Zach LaVine-Lauri Markkanen chemistry problem
On paper, the ultra-athletic guard with seemingly limitless shooting range and a 7-foot forward who is comfortable scoring inside or out should be a defensive nightmare. Instead, it seems too often that LaVine’s big games come when Markkanen is largely quiet — and vice versa.
The two scored 20 or more points in the same game just six times in 46 shared games last season. And, per Cleaning the Glass, lineups featuring Markkanen and LaVine registered an offensive rating of just 108.1 in 2,563 non-garbage time possessions, 28th percentile among all lineups that played 100 or more possessions across the league.
That has to change.
Even before firing Boylen, Karnišovas and Eversley had met with the coaching staff to address offensive issues. With a new coach on board, unlocking this potentially potent pairing is essential.
Unleash Wendell Carter Jr.
Remember those Al Horford comps during Carter’s draft process?
It’s getting harder to after two seasons in which Carter has battled injuries and too often become an afterthought in the offense. Carter’s shooting touch and form, as evidenced by his 76.1 percent free-throw shooting, is too smooth for him to not even be looking at the basket upon catches at the elbow — let alone 3-point range.
And yet, that’s what Carter did far too often last season. That’s not all on him. The new coach must utilize Carter’s passing ability and stroke to make him a more featured offensive element.
Be straight on the blame game
It’s OK to protect players. It’s also OK to be honest.
Players respond to coaches who shoot straight with them and believe they have their best interests at the forefront. It’s even OK to honestly assess players publicly as long as what’s being aired also has been discussed privately.
This may seem like a small deal, but it’s not. In this day and age of more controlled media access, the head coach is the main spokesperson for the organization. On a typical game day, he or she address reporters three times — following morning shootaround, pregame and postgame. Setting the right message of holding players accountable while also having their backs is essential.
Given that Karnišovas has publicly stated he likes to have personal relationships before holding people accountable, this dynamic appears high on his list of importance as well.
When Karnišovas held a conference call with reporters in June, he said youth and injuries no longer can be excuses “because this group is too talented not to perform better.” Rest assured the new coach will know of that expectation as well.