It somehow seemed fitting that Wednesday marked the one-year anniversary of Jim Boylen stating his goal of making the 2019-20 playoffs at Bulls media day.
Good vibes abounded back then. The Bulls widely praised their September buy-in, with Ryan Arcidiacono proudly displaying a wrestling-style championship belt for beating Zach LaVine to win Boylen’s 1-on-1 tournament.
That the Bulls are back in good-vibes mode in a secondary bubble for voluntary group activities as those 2019-20 NBA Finals tip off in this most unprecedented season makes new general manager Marc Eversley’s perspective all the more important.
He knows the Bulls have done nothing but win press conferences since he, new executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas and new head coach Billy Donovan have come on board. There’s plenty of progress to make.
“We're trying to bring this team back to relevance, absolutely,” Eversley said on a Zoom call with reporters. “This is the Chicago Bulls. It's an iconic brand. There's a tremendous amount of history. It's a responsibility. And I think we've embraced that.”
Though Karnišovas and Eversley both own extensive executive experience, they’re in new roles. Karnišovas has never been the principal decision-maker. Eversley is the first Black general manager in franchise history.
The men knew each other from shared time on the road but had never worked together before. Thus far, the relationship has been a seamless one.
“The buck does stop with him in terms of decision-making,” Eversley said of Karnišovas. “As a member of the front office, it's my job to put him in a position to make great decisions for this organization going forward.
“With respect to specifics, I look at something like the coaching search. I was with him together when we went to Florida to meet with Billy. We collaborate on a daily basis, but ultimately he makes the decisions. So, it's been great. I anticipate that it will continue to be great.
“You look at something like the bubble. We worked hand-in-hand in terms of building a program for our players to succeed in. And I think, to date, with the bubble it's been a tremendous success for staff, coaches and players. The feedback we've gotten from our players has been incredibly positive. I feel like they've gotten better over the course of the first seven days and I anticipate that that's gonna happen going forward.”
The organization’s quick pivot to wooing and then landing Donovan after, according to Eversley, they already had interviewed 10 candidates is an example of how he and Karnišovas plan to work together.
“It’s interesting because as we were going through the process, one of the things that we had talked about was we need to be thorough and practice patience. And when Billy became available, I think Artūras called an Uber and he wanted to head to O’Hare right away,” Eversley cracked. “His aggressiveness was thorough, but it was also well thought out. And he had reasons why he thought we need to attack this thing and gather as much information as possible about Billy.
“One thing about AK is when we want to get something done, he gets it done. He’s really thoughtful about it. But when there’s a decision to be made, he makes it and we move forward. That’s pretty much how we looked at it with Billy.”
During his introductory news conference via Zoom, Donovan cited how Karnišovas pitched a partnership to him. Eversley, new vice president of player personnel Pat Connelly and new assistant general manager J.J. Polk are in that mix as well.
It’s their collective job to develop the young talent on the roster and maximize the assets that include the No. 4 overall pick and projected salary cap space for next offseason.
“I like a lot of the players on this roster,” Eversley said. “I think if we put together an efficient, effective player development program, I think you will see a quick turnaround in terms of the output that these players give. By going out and getting a Billy Donovan, who brings a different voice to the gym. He brings winning. He brings leadership. He brings player development. And I think if you put that voice at the top of this thing, I think our players will grow.
“I don’t know if it’s going to be immediate, but they’re going to grow. We do have assets going forward in terms of the flexibility a year from now. Again, if we can grow these players internally, I think we are going to see success on the court. This team is better than a 22-win team, the talent is. If we tweak it and do some little things, I think we’ll see some results that are positive.”