Bulls Insider

Karnišovas isn't done reshaping Bulls after active deadline

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

He’s not done.

That was the word around the league as soon as Artūras Karnišovas made the first big splash Thursday morning by acquiring Nikola Vučević and Al-Farouq Aminu from the Magic for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter and first-round picks in 2021 and 2023 that sources said are protected Nos. 1-4.

And Karnišovas still isn’t, even after continuing a busy day by first sending Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchison to the Washington Wizards for Troy Brown and Mo Wagner and later flipping Wagner to the Boston Celtics for Daniel Theis and Javonte Green.

Though Lauri Markkanen remains on the roster, and potentially fits in future plans, multiple league sources said the Bulls engaged in talks with the New Orleans Pelicans centered on the restricted-free-agent-to-be and Lonzo Ball. That deal was rejected by the Pelicans, who sought first-round picks that ultimately moved to the Magic or to broaden the deal to take on Eric Bledsoe's contract.

But the premise is undeniable: Karnišovas wants to upgrade at point guard.

And as Thursday proved, what Karnišovas wants, he typically gets.

"We’re not done," Karnišovas said later on a Zoom call with reporters, echoing the theme from league circles. "We’re going to keep improving our quality of play. And then keep adding pieces to what this team is going to look like in the future."

In this season of evaluation, Karnišovas and general manager Marc Eversley watched coach Billy Donovan place more responsibility on Wendell Carter Jr.’s plate. And the third-year big man not only endured another injury-plagued season but failed to run with the opportunity, losing his starting job to 14-year veteran Thad Young.

AKME, as fans have started calling the new regime, watched Donovan hand the keys to the car to second-year guard Coby White and White show flashes but ultimately lose his starting job to veteran Tomáš Satoranský.

Management set a firm price on rookie contract extension talks with Markkanen and walked away when the gap in annual salary proved to be roughly $4 million, essentially telling the fourth-year forward to prove it. Markkanen has played well, albeit while enduring another injury, and both sides are in good position to see how the roster changes impact him.

Management and Donovan watched a team whose young players struggled with confidence issues and toughness at times and acquired, in Theis and Brown, a physical rim protector and an intriguing young talent who could benefit from a fresh start.

"“Obviously, we want Chicago to be attractive destination for free agents. As we evaluated, we had a sample size of more than 40 games and we made a couple decisions to add a couple guys to this team that can win games because we’re serious here about winning," Karnišovas said. "We’re serious about the culture of being very competitive. Any opportunity we get to make this team better, we will.’’

Sources said exploratory talks with the Magic started over a week ago, hit a cooling-off period and then intensified again this week.

Multiple league sources said just because a Markkanen-for-Ball deal didn’t happen by Thursday’s deadline that it doesn’t mean that sign-and-trade talks for either player can’t be revisited this summer.

In order to sign Ball to an offer sheet outright, the Bulls would have to waive Young or Satoranský, renounce the rights to Markkanen, who has a $20.2 million salary cap hold, or both, to create room. That seems like a lot.

But it’s clear: Karnišovas isn’t done. And a point guard is coming at some point. For now, Tomáš Satoranský and Coby White are fine.

"Getting another additional facilitator on offense like Nikola, it's going to make guard play much easier. So, I mean, how do you define point guard? Who brings the ball up and just initiates the offense, right?" Karnišovas said. "So I think it's just gonna make it a little bit easier for everybody by getting a facilitator like Nikola."

Another big message from Thursday is that the new regime wants to win now. They believe a muddled-up Eastern Conference playoff picture is there to crash. Get in the playoffs now, making a situation with two All-Stars in Vučević and Zach LaVine even more attractive for potential future acquisitions.

LaVine stands to benefit greatly from Thursday's moves. Not only does he project to form a potent pairing on the court with Vučević, they signal a clear commitment to him moving forward.

Especially because Karnišovas isn't done.

RELATED: Why Bulls’ Vučević trade provides snug fit, firm direction

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