Artūras Karnišovas stepped into his role as executive vice president of basketball operations with a reputation as both a gym rat and people person.
"We're basketball junkies," Bulls general manager Marc Eversley said of him and Karnišovas upon being hired. "We love being in the gym... We love growing teams."
Approaching the halfway point of his first season with the organization, Karnišovas is living up to those traits. Just ask Wendell Carter Jr.
"He’s (Karnišovas) always in here when I’m working out, giving me tips on what he thinks I can do better," Carter said after morning shootaround in advance of a game against the Denver Nuggets, where Karnišovas served as general manager before taking the Bulls gig. "He’s very hands on, and I can respect that about him."
Really, though: How often is Karnišovas camped out in the Advocate Center?
"Pretty much every day," Carter continued. "In practices, he’s on the sidelines. So right after practice or right before practice, I see players, including myself, talking to him and just seeing how he’s feeling. And not necessarily always talking about basketball. Just checking in on one another and things like that. He’s a great people person, and I really appreciate him."
That jibes with the culture Karnišovas said he strived to bring to Chicago upon being hired -- one where player development is paramount, and manifests both on and off the court. When the Bulls held their voluntary bubble minicamp in September, Karnišovas and Eversley made a point to not only emphasize on-court drills and scrimmaging, but also extracurricular activities that ranged from ping pong at the team hotel to group golf outings.
"I want our players to understand that it’s not just about basketball," Eversley said then. "It's about life."
The Bulls are off to their best start of their current rebuild -- 15-17 -- under that leadership, along with head coach Billy Donovan, who Carter again praised for his direct coaching style that features healthy back-and-forth over usage and film study.
"Just his demeanor about the game. He understands that he also doesn't know everything," Carter said when asked why Donovan's style resonates. "It's a two-way street with him. If you feel one way and he feels a different way, you can have that conversation with him. He doesn't think that he's just the big dog or he thinks that he's better than everybody else."
It's not hard to see why Karnišovas and Donovan gushed over the potential for a long-term partnership upon Donovan's hiring. And why Carter, despite an 11-game injury absence, is posting career-best scoring, assist and shooting numbers in his third season.
But back to the granular: A marquee matchup with Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets looms on Monday after Sunday's road bout with the Toronto Raptors was postponed, posing what Carter called a tough physical challenge.
"We get on the plane, we go down there (to Tampa, Fla.), got all our energy to focus on the game and then the energy kind of gets sucked out of you," Carter said. "In the span of 24 hours, you're probably on a plane for like six or seven of the hours. It's tough. It drains the body a lot."
That's why Karnišovas stressed rest and film ahead of Monday night's game against his former team. It's one Carter said Karnišovas will be watching especially in earnest.
"He’s definitely excited. Once we figured out our game was canceled in Tampa, he was there in the film session. He told us, ‘Our game is [postponed]. Now you get some more time to rest. I need y’all to win this next game for me,'" Carter chided. "We just gotta go out and get this W for him tonight."