How one-week offseason could foreshadow Bulls’ long-term plans

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

Let the nuttiness begin.

With Sunday’s news that the NBA is lifting its moratorium on trades at 11 a.m. CT Monday, the 2020 offseason is about to happen in one week.

Trades, finally, can happen. The NBA Draft is Wednesday. The deadline for player options and qualifying offers will be this week in advance of Friday's free agency. Well, that's the official start since those backchannel conversations have occurred informally for weeks. And free agents can officially sign new deals starting Sunday.

Unprecedented times, indeed.

Everybody knew that an offseason impacted by COVID-19 would be accelerated. But this 100 m.p.h. week will offer the most detailed look at how the Bulls’ new management team led by Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley plans to restore the franchise.

Do they shop Zach LaVine? Do they draft the best talent available, creating a logjam at a position that needs future attention? Do they let Kris Dunn walk? Do they work the margins of free agency by using their mid-level or bi-annual exceptions?

Here we go.

There’s also the matter of potentially negotiating an extension of Lauri Markkanen’s rookie contract. That deadline isn’t until Dec. 21, the day before the 2020-21 season is tentatively scheduled to tip -- and we say tentatively because all of this is playing out against the backdrop of surging coronavirus cases around the country. It could be a wild few weeks both off the court and on it once training camps open Dec. 1.


But back to Markkanen: In light of the financial impact from the pandemic, which isn’t allowing fans into most arenas, the projected future salary cap numbers will be lower. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported the 2021-22 cap projects to rise to just $112 million from this season’s $109.1 million.

If the Bulls are sold on Markkanen, these numbers could have a positive effect on negotiations. Locking into guaranteed long-term money in an age of financial uncertainty for the league could be an incentive for a player like Markkanen. What talks between both sides produce remains to be seen.

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With the draft fast approaching, Sunday’s latest chatter featured the Bulls operating under the belief that LaMelo Ball, James Wiseman and Anthony Edwards -- in some order -- will be the first three picks. That leaves plenty of intriguing options should the Bulls remain at the No. 4 pick -- and, again, give a window into how Karnišovas and Eversley plan to shape this roster.

Karnišovas has said publicly that opting for the best talent available -- and not drafting based on positional need -- will be his philosophy come Nov. 18. That said, this draft features plenty of point guard depth beyond Ball in Tyrese Halliburton, Killian Hayes and Kira Lewis Jr.

The Bulls’ biggest needs appear to be at point guard and wing.

A league source said the Bulls are intrigued by Lewis, who they see as a fit alongside Coby White. What that means for LaVine’s long-term future remains to be seen. He has two years left on his value deal and is eligible for an extension this week as well.

If the Bulls opt for USC big man Onyeka Oknogwu, another player in whom some rival executives believe the Bulls have interest, he might be considered duplicative of Wendell Carter Jr. That could lead to speculation that the Bulls are more wedded to Markkanen long-term than Carter.

In the most extreme example from past drafts Karnišovas was party to, the Denver Nuggets front office in which he worked proved you can draft duplication and figure out the rest later. In a 2014 draft-day deal with the Bulls, the Nuggets acquired the rights to Jusuf Nurkić (No. 16 overall)… then selected Nikola Jokić (No. 41 overall) in the second round. When Jokić emerged as a perennial All-NBA center, the Nuggets traded Nurkić to the Portland Trail Blazers close to three years later. A similar process took place when the Nuggets drafted Emmanuel Mudiay (2015) and Jamal Murray (2016) in back-to-back drafts as well.

Karnišovas has said he wants to play a read-and-react system that features ball and player movement. The Nuggets teams he helped shape with Tim Connelly, that franchise’s president of basketball operations, featured plenty of two-way players, athleticism and versatility.

This week offers the first opportunity for him to begin shaping the Bulls in his preferred philosophy.