Bulls

Bulls questions: Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year?

Bulls questions: Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year?

Two times per week, we'll be breaking down a pertinent Bulls question for you all to chew in during the NBA's hiatus.

Past installments: What is Zach LaVine's ceiling?

Kris Dunn’s arc over the past calendar year has been something to behold.

As recently as last August, the Bulls were, by all accounts, actively shopping Dunn after a tumultuous spell as the team’s starting point guard in 2018-19.

But they found no takers, and the fourth-year guard from Providence went on to carve out a niche for himself as a defensive linchpin over the course of the 2019-20 season. His insertion into the Bulls’ starting lineup keyed a month-long stretch where the team boasted a top-two defense in the NBA. When he went down with an MCL sprain on Jan. 31, he led the NBA in steals. And in his absence, the Bulls’ defense absolutely cratered.

Before that MCL injury, Dunn’s value had never been higher. But with it, his offseason is in flux. Whenever the NBA’s free agency window opens, Dunn will be a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of $4.6 million — he fell six starts short of meeting the current CBA’s starter-criteria, which would have inflated that figure to $7.1 million. (Though those figures now might be subject to change.)

 

The Bulls will, of course, extend that offer to Dunn. The question is whether they would entertain matching any offer sheet he might find elsewhere (our K.C. Johnson floated the Clippers as a possible team with interest) or hammering out an extension themselves. 

There isn’t a ton of cap space around the league this summer, and if the current coronavirus-induced hiatus dings the cap any further, there could be less. But a reasonable $8-11 million AAV projection for Dunn puts him in the range of the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, which a number of teams will be able to flaunt. 

Would the Bulls consider a multi-year extension with those parameters? Let’s weigh the pros and cons. 

The pros: Dunn’s rare blend of length, tenacity, and vocality on the wing makes the Bulls’ aggressive, turnover-happy defensive schemes go. He’s beloved in the locker room, and he improved ancillary components of his offensive game this season; he got to and finished at the rim better than he ever has — 42% of Dunn’s looks came there (87th percentile for his position) and he finished 65% of them (83rd), per Cleaning the Glass — and proved capable as a lead ball-handler and distributor in spurts. You could do a lot worse than him anchoring a second unit as a defensive specialist.

But the cons loom: Dunn’s erratic 3-point shot caused major problems for the Bulls’ offense this season. Beyond a paltry 25.9% overall 3-point clip (2.2 attempts per game), defenses simply stopped guarding him from the outside for stretches this season. The Bulls’ offensive system is precarious enough without allowing opponents to deliberately muck up driving and cutting lanes with regularity. Further, with younger, less expensive ‘defensive energy’ guys to potentially lock up already on the roster (Shaq Harrison, Adam Mokoka), might the Bulls be able to replace a large percentage of Dunn’s production at a fraction of the investment?

It might be best to tread lightly with the latter calculation: Dunn’s defensive impact cannot be overstated. With him on the court this season, the Bulls defended at a rate of 103.6 points per 100 possessions and 110.4 with him off. For context: that’s roughly the difference between the second and 18th-rated defenses in the league. Had the Bulls’ record been a tad loftier, he might have had a legitimate All-Defense case — there simply are not many better on-ball defenders in the NBA, from a physical or mental perspective. Ask Trae Young or Paul George if you want proof of that.

Still, this team and organization are currently in a position where investing long-term in a guy so specialized may not be responsible. Without questioning Dunn’s work ethic, he just turned 26 and when he returns, he will be coming off a potentially significant knee injury. At some point, you are what you are as an NBA player. What Dunn brings is tangible and impactful, but unless legitimately sold on him as a foundational, long-term piece, keeping the books as clean as possible probably behooves the Bulls.

With all the above as background, the best-case scenario for the Bulls is a market not emerging for Dunn in a fraught cap environment and securing him for another year on that qualifying offer. In Dunn’s best interest is capitalizing on a year highlighted by revelatory defense and role acceptance by locking into a long-term commitment — whether that be in Chicago or elsewhere.

Time will tell if those interests will align in a marriage. If not, Dunn’s time with the Bulls will have been topsy turvy, but ultimately worth appreciating. 

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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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