Bulls

Bulls observations: Another Bulls-Knicks bloodbath and Oprah in the house

Bulls observations: Another Bulls-Knicks bloodbath and Oprah in the house

The Bulls seized a commanding 2-0 series victory over the rival Knicks with a 91-80 win that was closer than the final score might indicate. This. Is. ‘90s. Basketball. Observations:

Non-Jordan Bulls appreciation blurb

Michael Jordan made light work of the Knicks once again, pouring in a cool 28 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals. He was locked in for long stretches and, as such, routinely looked unstoppable. But let’s talk about some of the other guys for a second:

  • Scottie Pippen: Jeff Mangurten of The Score said it best: “He would've been a Hall of Famer even if he didn't attempt a shot in his career.” Pippen missed 14 of his first 17 shots and had just 10 points through three quarters, but you’d never have known it. Even when the shots aren’t falling he impacts the game at such a high level and in so many different ways his presence perpetually looms. Oh, and then he scored nine points (including a towering fastbreak dunk) in the fourth and drew a crucial offensive foul as the Bulls pulled away. He finished with 19 points, six assists, four steals and a block. He also hit three 3-pointers in spite of those early shooting woes. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary for Scottie Pippen.

 

  • Dennis Rodman: Rodman pulled down a game-high 19 rebounds and was a bull in the china shop on the glass all night. The place I notice that patented ‘90s physicality’ the most is on the boards, and Rodman clearly thrives on bumping and bodying opposing bigs. A much-needed dynamic against this bruising Knicks frontcourt.

 

  • Luc Longley: Speaking of bruisers, man, is Longley underrated. He’s been so solid as a post defender all postseason long so far, and continued that trend matched up with Patrick Ewing in this one — so much so that Johnny “Red” Kerr sounded irreparably crestfallen when he thought Longley had fouled out on a block attempt late in the fourth quarter with the game still in the balance (the foul in question was only Longley’s fifth). Ewing finished 9-for-19 from the floor, Longley with three blocks. That’ll do. 

Bulls-Knicks might as well be a synonym with bloodbath

Another grind-it-out affair. I’m beginning to see a pattern. 

Times have changed. The Bulls have changed.

Matters peaked early in the fourth quarter, when Ewing went after Bulls’ assistant coach Jim Cleamons on the host’s bench. An assistant coach! The Bulls went on to win that final period 30-21, but it was only that tight by way of some mop-up work by the Knicks’ reserves late (at one point, they went seven-and-a-half minutes without a bucket). For the second game in a row, these teams combined to shoot under 40 percent from the floor.

But when this Bulls team turns it on, they’re insurmountable. As I watched the UC rock and shake through my television screen in the midst of a 27-10 Bulls run to open the fourth, I found myself nostalgic for a time I never knew.

Oprah!

Oprah!

Not pictured, but as the Bulls rained hellfire on the Knicks early in the fourth, Winfrey was often cut to celebrating like mad. She was rewarded for her fervor with Rodman’s game-worn jersey right after the final buzzer sounded. 

“I believe all of Chicago must unite to defeat the Knicks,” she said during an on-camera interview midway through the game.

We’ll skip over Game 3 of this series (a 102-99 Knicks win at MSG) and get back to doing just that Friday night on NBC Sports Chicago.

Every other night through April 15, NBC Sports Chicago is airing the entirety of the Bulls' 1996 NBA championship run. Find the full schedule here.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Arturas Karnisovas vows to get creative with Bulls' development in long offseason

Arturas Karnisovas vows to get creative with Bulls' development in long offseason

Talk about cruel coincidence.

The Bulls were in Orlando, Fla. to play a game that never happened on March 11, the night that commissioner Adam Silver suspended the NBA season. And they won’t be in Orlando in July when the league attempts to restart following the COVID-19-induced hiatus.

Nothing has been easy about the Bulls’ 2019-20 season, which makes the unprecedented nature of the offseason seem fitting. Roughly nine months between games for a young team that features a new management regime is hardly ideal.

“I do agree with you that not playing puts us in a competitive disadvantage,” executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas said on a Saturday conference call. “But I think there are creative ways to (stay sharp).”

By all accounts, and in their own words, Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley thrive on relationships, face-to-face interaction and living in the gym. Until Wednesday, when the Bulls followed city guidelines to open the Advocate Center for voluntary, socially distanced workouts, they never even had that opportunity.

Karnisovas said he and Eversley are scheduled to be in Chicago soon. The problem is, the players don’t have to be. That’s why there’s talk between the eight teams excluded from the restart and both the league and players association about alternative methods to navigate an unprecedented offseason.

“We’re getting now on calls and we’re having conversations about how we can develop our players and how we can have a structure in place to get some practicing and possibly some scrimmaging possibly in the offseason to catch up to those teams that are going to be playing. The work obviously never stops,” Karnisovas said. “I informed the players that we will inform them depending on what the league is going to allow us to do this summer, and we’re going to go from there.”

This type of communication with players has been consistent since the Bulls hired the new management regime.

“They've been great.They've both been keeping us abreast of everything that's going on, especially during the time where we were trying to figure out if we could get back in the gym or not or during the time where they were figuring out who's going to go to Orlando,” Thaddeus Young said. “Arturas is very, very good as far as communicating. Marc is great… Obviously, this is a situation where they can't really do their job because we're not playing basketball, and I'm sure they're anxious to really get on the job and get a grasp of things. But they've been great as far as reaching out and talking to us all and making sure they're staying in sync with us.”

Zach LaVine agreed.

“You don’t have any expectations going into something new. But as a player, it’s always good to have them reach out to you. They did that the first day,” LaVine said. “Arturas reached out to me and I’ve had several conversations with him, him just checking in to see how we’re doing, having Zoom calls, text meetings. He has called me individually as well. Same with Marc.

“A lot of it is just getting to know the team. Some of it was just general conversation like, ‘How you’re doing. What have you been doing in Seattle? How are things out there concerning coronavirus and [racial injustice protests] that have been going on.’ It’s been good — general conversation, workouts, what’s been going on with the team, why this didn’t work, why this worked. They’ve been extremely involved.”

Karnisovas said the ideal scenario, which would have to be agreed upon between the league and players association, would be to hold team-oriented activities like practices and possibly scrimmages with other non-bubble teams.

“There’s going to be a lot of player development and individual work, but I also would like to see some team activity, as well, because there’s so much time away from the game of basketball,” Karnisovas said. “Just playing games, I would look for the league to see something like that, to simulate something like that this summer.”

In a typical offseason, teams can’t mandate players to remain in-market. In a TV interview in his native Czech Republic, Tomas Satoransky said he may practice with a team in Prague during the offseason. Karnisovas said Lauri Markkanen has remained in Chicago for now but his family has been back and forth to Finland. LaVine is in Seattle. Young said he’s in Texas for now.

“We’re exchanging a lot of conversations and proposals with the league,” Karnisovas said. “The players in the market, they’ve already been coming into the Advocate Center for individual work. So hopefully I’ll be able to see them. The players out of the market, we’ll continue talking to them. And once we have more direction from the league, we’ll propose a bunch of plans to our players for the summer.

“I’m confident because I think eight teams is a huge part of our league. And I think the league’s interest is to support those teams as well as they can. The proposed structure of some practices and some scrimmages that we would like to see this summer, I think it’s not too much to ask."

RELATED: Arturas Karnisovas pledges to make bounceback plan with Lauri Markkanen

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Arturas Karnisovas pledges to make bounceback plan with Lauri Markkanen

Arturas Karnisovas pledges to make bounceback plan with Lauri Markkanen

The case of Lauri Markkanen’s third-year regression is multi-pronged.

Across the board, the one-time wunderkin’s production sank, his minutes and opportunity in the offense fluctuated, and his general assertiveness seemed to wane. What’s to blame for the disappointing campaign? Some combination of Markkanen, the Bulls’ coaching staff, teamwide tumult, and, perhaps, too-lofty expectations to begin with. Injuries — respective oblique (soreness) and ankle (sprain) ailments he played through, and a stress reaction in his pelvis that sidelined him 15 games — undoubtedly played a role, as well.

Regardless of the culprit of Markkanen’s woes, if the Bulls’ rebuild is to get back on track, their second cornerstone must rebound in Year 4 and beyond. New general manager Marc Eversley has pledged to “learn more about” the reasons behind Markkanen’s struggles in pursuit of that mission.

Arturas Karnisovas did the same in an end-of-season conference call with reporters Saturday, adding that he’s personally spoken to Markkanen, who remained in the Chicago area throughout the NBA’s hiatus, on multiple occasions. The fruits of those conversations appear to be positive thus far, with hunger to improve a theme.

“We’ve spoken to Lauri numerous times. He’s been very patient, stayed in the market. His family is now with him,” Karnisovas said. “I spoke to him about last year. He’s eager to get back to the gym and improve. He was disappointed by the overall result (last season). Every player wants to win. He’s about winning, as well. Our objective is to get the best version of Lauri next year. We agreed in conversations that this is our objective, and we’re going to try to do it.”

Also worth adding to the to-do list could be hammering out a long-term extension with Markkanen, who is eligible for one when the offseason officially strikes. Karnisovas didn’t address that dynamic with reporters, instead impressing the importance of getting under the same roof and laying the foundation for a strong personal relationship with Markkanen before jumping to any conclusions.

“I’ll look forward to meeting him face-to-face. Before accountability, I have to have a personal relationship with him,” Karnisovas said.

That quality of Karnisovas’ thoughtful leadership style has permeated the decision-making process on head coach Jim Boylen’s future, as well. Karnisovas reiterated what has been widely reported in the call: A decision on Boylen is not imminent, and will wait until Karnisovas (who is “on the way” to Chicago) is able to meet Boylen in person and establish a relationship with him.

As for Markkanen, expectations remain high, even after a down year. And fulfilling that expectation will be a collaborative process, to hear Karnisovas tell it. That and management clearly viewing Markkanen as an asset worth pouring time and resources into are refreshing sentiments.

“We’ll set expectations, which are pretty high,” Karnisovas said. “And it’s about improvement. Each player, from talking to them, they were disappointed with last year’s result.

“We’re going to strive to get better. Same thing with Lauri. We have a lot of time this offseason. We’re going to put a plan together for him. We’re going to schedule and do that.”

Indeed, with the Bulls excluded from the NBA’s 22-team resumption plan, a potential nine-month-plus layoff between games looms. For a team as young as these Bulls, that type of dry spell has the potential to be detrimental to development and continuity. In that vein, Karnisovas said he’d favor “some team-oriented activities… practices and possibly scrimmages” as curriculum for the eight teams not assembling in Orlando as a way to stay loose. 

The bright side to all of the above: The fresh-faced front office has nothing but time to address all that riddled the Bulls in 2019-20. Player development, which begins with relationships, will clearly be a tenet of the new regime. And there’s no better place to begin putting their words on that topic to action than with Markkanen.

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