Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan long has talked about the partnership he feels with his boss, executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas.
So with the NBA trade deadline approaching on Thursday, what Donovan said Saturday night is significant.
“He has not really given me anything specific,” Donovan said. “I know we’re five or six days away from the deadline. But like he always tells me, when something really comes up that’s pertinent that he wants to fill me in on, he’ll fill me in.
“He’s on the phone, and I think there’s all kinds of calls and conversations going on with all these teams right now. But there’s nothing that he’s really talked to me where he’s said, ‘Hey listen, we’re close on this or close on that.’ But he is communicating.”
That’s what lead basketball executives do at this time of year. They talk to teams. But Donovan’s words are consistent with the widespread reporting and current belief from multiple rival executives that Karnišovas isn’t planning to make a major trade before Thursday.
That stance, obviously, can change with the right offer. But Karnišovas’ publicly stated position about continuity isn’t merely lip service.
One widely circulated rumor that a source said has no traction is the Bulls trading Zach LaVine to the Los Angeles Lakers for Russell Westbrook and first-round picks in 2027 and 2029. The rumor began with media speculation and has taken on a life of its own, but a source said no significant talks have taken place on any such framework.
“Nothing new for me. Nine years of dealing with this. Play the next day. Practice. See what happens,” LaVine said of the speculation swirling this time of year and the focus needed in advance of the trade deadline and All-Star break. “Guys are fine, at least from what I’ve noticed. Nobody is paying really big attention to it, unless they’re having private discussions they don’t want to share with the team. But I think it’s a little bit more what’s going on outside the locker room and outside the team and the media makes it a bigger deal than it is.”
LaVine added he doesn’t like the soap opera nature of the NBA, instead preferring to focus on basketball. That’s where Donovan’s focus lies too.
And Donovan long has insisted the Bulls have what it takes within the locker room to right matters this season.
“I think the one thing that’s been built over the last three years now is I think there’s a high level of trust and open transparency and honesty that you can speak the truth about how you feel about things. And I really appreciate that. And he can do the same thing with me,” Donovan said of his relationship with Karnišovas. “And I think that’s a really good starting point.
“The biggest thing we share a commonality on is how do you want your team to play? And I think one of the things for both of us as we talk that’s been somewhat frustrating or disappointing is we haven’t been able to sustain a consistency level. I think stylistically it’s good what we’re trying to do. But I think the consistency of playing at a certain level---and that’s not to say we’re going to win every game---but we’ve certainly had some games where we’ve been up and down. Last year we struggled against some of the better teams. We’ve been way more competitive this year. I’ve said this before: I understand it’s a results-oriented business. I think there are some things we’ve gotten better in. We’re better defensively now than we were when we lost Alex (Caruso) and Lonzo (Ball). I think our assist numbers are up and there are more guys involved offensively.
“But overall, when you’re watching, there are periods of these halves and quarters where it’s not good. And I think we’re on the same page that you want to have a highly driven and competitive and motivated team out there. How do we help this group get that more consistently?”
Donovan doesn’t, however, have veto power on trades. The partnership only goes so far. He has a voice at the table.
“I think Arturas would take it into consideration. But I would say this: Just being around Arturas over the last several years, he’s an incredible worker. He’s a great guy. I know he comes across as stoic. But he’s a great guy with a great sense of humor. And that’s the point: I feel that I could say that (I disagree) to him. But ultimately, it’s his decision as to what he feels is best. And I’m always going to support him and back him on that because I trust him,” Donovan said. “So if there was a situation where I said, ‘Listen, I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ And he says, ‘No, Billy, here’s why.’ I’m behind him. I’m going to support him. Those are going to end up being his decisions.
“And I appreciate the fact that he brings me into them and he gives me a seat at the table and a voice. And I feel like he listens to me. But if he’s looking at the totality of the team in terms of building it, because there are just certain things as a coach that I’m not paying attention to. I’m just watching the games and scouting and he’s got a much broader picture. If there was somebody I feel wasn’t a good fit, I would feel totally comfortable telling him that. But that’s going to be his decision and I support him and trust him in that.”