Bulls

LeBron James: Release 'The Last Dance' documentary on 1998 Bulls early

LeBron James: Release 'The Last Dance' documentary on 1998 Bulls early

Last week, ESPN dumped a bucket of cold water on rumors that ‘The Last Dance’ — a 10-part docuseries that has promised to tell the untold stories of Michael Jordan and the ’98 Bulls — would be released early. 

The docuseries is currently scheduled to come out in June, but calls for an early release have crescendoed with live sports on hold for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until now, those calls have come predominantly from fans. But as of the most recent episode of the Road Trippin’ podcast, LeBron James and Richard Jefferson have added their voices to the chorus:

“What they need to release is that Michael Jordan documentary,” Jefferson said.

“I’m telling you, if they released that thing right now, the views?” James said. “Listen, if I’m Michael Jordan, I’m going in there and I’m making a conference call and I’m like, OK, what’s the reason we gonna hold onto it until June now? Compared to now, when everybody is at home.”

I mean, agreed. The viewing public thought to have some clarity on the answer to that question when ESPN EVP of Programming Acquisitions and Scheduling Burke Magnus said last week that production on the film hadn’t been completed.

But the plot thickens…

“Because it’s (‘The Last Dance’) done,” James continued. 

“It’s done, it’s been done,” Jefferson, who works for ESPN (!), interjected. “ESPN — I know I don’t want to get fired — but release that [expletive].”

“ESPN can’t fire you, RJ, you my friend,” James said with a chuckle.

And with that, the conversation ended. 

For us, at least, that’s enough to hold out hope. Do the right thing, ESPN.

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.

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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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Arturas Karnisovas makes clear why Jim Boylen decision will take time

Arturas Karnisovas makes clear why Jim Boylen decision will take time

Arturas Karnisovas knew questions about Jim Boylen’s future were coming.

So the Bulls’ new executive vice president of basketball operations tackled them in his opening statement during a Saturday conference call with reporters.

“We want to spend time internally to assure that we are thorough in our appraisals. Our intention was to return to play at some point and have the opportunity to make informed decisions. There are several unprecedented circumstances beyond our control. We have been limited in certain obvious ways. So our objective is to use this time in innovative ways to create opportunities for our players and coaches to encourage development,” Karnisovas said. “I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation. That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward. I deeply respect and value the role of media, and I look forward to getting to know you all, as I believe we share a passion to see success of Chicago sports franchises.”

Translated: Prepare to wait.

An unprecedented offseason only adds another layer to Karnisovas’ decision on Boylen and Boylen’s staff, especially given Karnisovas’ reputation as one who believes in building genuine relationships.

“Coaching in the league is very difficult. To make a decision about coaching is really hard. It’s probably the hardest thing for executives,” Karnisovas said. “So I look at a lot of aspects. I’ve had numerous conversations. That said, I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together.

“Talking to players and coaches, obviously everyone is disappointed with the results last year. They (the Bulls) definitely underperformed. Watching games, I’m excited to watch because there’s a lot of talent on this team. In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them. That’s what I need to cultivate. That’s my objective this offseason.”

And indeed, it will be a long offseason. There is not yet a definitive start date for the 2020-21 season, though it will almost certainly be in December. That gives time for Karnisovas, who said he’s “on the way” to Chicago soon, to form relationships.

After hiring general manager Marc Eversley, vice president of player personnel Pat Connelly and assistant general manager J.J. Polk, Karnisovas said he plans no further additions or changes to the front-office staff. That means holdovers like associate general manager Brian Hagen, assistant general manager Steve Weinman and director of pro personnel Jim Paxson are safe for now.

“I really take pride in my relationships that I cultivate with coaching staffs and my basketball operations staffs. I haven’t seen them. I’m looking forward to it,” Karnisovas said. “I think after we found out that we were left out of the bubble in Orlando, we’ll have all the time in the world to (get to know everyone). So I’m looking forward to that.

“As much as we talk on the phone, they don't know me. So that is my number one priority when I get in the city, when I get in the building, is to get to know our coaching staff, meet the players and start the process of getting to know each other. And again, before the accountability, I have to know them before we keep each other accountable. So I will cultivate a selfless attitude with the players and there's not going to be any excuses. The youth, the injuries, all that stuff is not going to be an excuse moving forward, because this group is too talented not to perform better.”

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