NEW YORK --- In explaining why he didn’t make a move before Thursday’s NBA trade deadline passed, Artūras Karnišovas emphasized that he represented the Chicago Bulls as buyers in his leaguewide discussions.
That would certainly indicate the executive vice president recognizes that, especially without Lonzo Ball, the roster he has aggressively overhauled over the last 23 months isn’t good enough.
And so even as Karnišovas reiterated his expectation that the Bulls will make the playoffs, another underwhelming loss to a patched-together Brooklyn Nets team not playing its main two acquisitions from the pending Kevin Durant trade signaled what surely will be changes this offseason.
The only questions are: Who? And how?
This season’s trade market placed a premium on surrendering draft assets, a path Karnišovas already traveled to assemble the current roster. It was clear from Karnišovas’ comments---even though he didn’t outright say it---that he’s no longer comfortable trading away draft picks.
So it will be players, players that Karnišovas said have value based on his conversations with other teams.
“There were so many buyers, so there were a lot of teams that didn’t want to take a step back, including us. So we tried to improve our team, but at what cost? That price was not OK with us, so I think the next stage for us now that we’ve passed the trade deadline is to evaluate this group the next 28 games,” Karnišovas said. “Mediocrity and average is not OK with us. But the next step is what’s going to happen for the rest of the season and then how we can address---during the draft and free agency---our shortcomings.’’
Karnišovas also expressed a desire and confidence in his ability to extend Nikola Vucevic. So naturally, the two remaining players who could bring the most return value in a reset are DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.
The Bulls aren’t going into a full rebuild. Karnišovas extracted the franchise from one by flipping the entire roster he inherited save for LaVine and Coby White. So these final 27 games certainly should provide some clarity for Karnišovas on how to best reset the franchise.
“We tried to get into a lot of deals, but at the end of the day we didn’t make any of them,” Karnišovas said. “So I think after looking at the return and what we had to give up to improve the team, we thought it was prudent to stick to this group for the next 28 games.
“I still have confidence in this group. There’s some parity in the East. I think the trade deadline kind of shifted some quality more toward the West, so there’s a chance obviously to compete in the Eastern Conference.”
Karnišovas will have a tough needle to thread. Besides owing the Orlando Magic this year’s first-round selection unless it lands in the top-four picks, the Bulls face contract decisions on four players---Vucevic, White, Ayo Dosunmu and Javonte Green.
The Bulls have paid the luxury tax one time in franchise history. Given that history, how can Karnišovas improve the team while staying fiscally responsible?
“We’ve done deals that in the summertime that a lot of people said we couldn’t do. I think there are ways to improve it. It’s just the timing is going to depend on when you make those moves,” Karnišovas said. “This is just a collection of information, these next 28 games, of where we are.”
Where the Bulls were Thursday night followed a familiar script. In his postgame remarks, coach Billy Donovan rued the lack of urgency to start the game. He didn’t much care that it came against a Nets team that has traded Durant and Kyrie Irving over the last week and didn’t suit up newcomers Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson.
“The disappointment to me is not losing the game to Brooklyn. The disappointment to me is the way we played,” Donovan said. “It could’ve been against anybody. . . . Their energy and intensity was better than ours to start the game.”
After missing their first 11 3-point shots to open their loss on Tuesday in Memphis, the Bulls missed their first 10 3-pointers on Thursday. They finished 5-for-26 from beyond the arc. LaVine, who led all scorers with 38 points, was the only Bull to make more than one.
“Obviously, they got up a lot more 3s than we did,” LaVine said. “We don’t shoot a lot of them. We’re pretty accurate when we do. We still find ways to win games. (This) just wasn’t one of them.
“We gotta stay with it. It’s us versus everybody. We trust each other and we’re all going to play for each other.”
DeRozan, who returned from missing two games with a minor hip injury, offered a similar take on perseverance.
“The room of error is getting slimmer and slimmer. It’s on us to realize that and understand that everything matters. We can’t rely on someone else to lose,” DeRozan said. “We need every one of these games.
“These are guys we’ve been going to war with. When you’re in a relationship---what’s the saying when you get married, through sickness and health? That’s how I look at it when I’m with a group of guys. Through sickness and health, until death do us part.”
The Bulls aren’t dead, but their playoff hopes are at least needing attention. Either way, expect changes this offseason.
“I am disappointed in terms of result. I’m disappointed in inconsistency,” Karnišovas said. “But players are coaches are doing a great job to hang in there. There’s still time to improve. And we have 27 games left.
“We have to improve our position. Each team probably says the same thing. We’re going to battle and see what happens.”