Toronto Raptors

Breaking down the four front office candidates the Bulls plan to interview

Breaking down the four front office candidates the Bulls plan to interview

The Bulls’ search for a new lead basketball executive with “full autonomy for basketball operations” begins next week.

Reports of an impending front office shakeup have burbled since All-Star weekend, but now, for the first time, a semblance of a concrete timeline has emerged. Not only have the Bulls put out a number of formal requests to begin that interview process, they also want the hire made before the NBA’s current hiatus ends, according to reporting by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and our K.C. Johnson.

In that reporting, four names have emerged above the fray: Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas, Raptors general manager Bobby Webster, Pacers’ general manager Chad Buchanan and Heat assistant general manager Adam Simon. Those four constitute the list of candidates the Bulls plan to request the right to interview.

So, perhaps it’s worth getting to know them. All four are accomplished and respected in their own right, but each’s path, strengths and record slightly differ. Let’s examine:

Arturas Karnisovas - General manager, Denver Nuggets

Karnisovas is in his seventh season with Nuggets — the first four as assistant general manager, the second three as general manager. 

Simply put, he’s one of the most respected veteran executives in the league. With the Bulls formally requesting to interview him for their lead executive spot, this is now the fourth time in five years Karnisovas has drawn significant interest for a front office spot. In 2016, he advanced to the later stages of the interview process for the Brooklyn Nets GM job, in 2017 he interviewed for the same position with the Milwaukee Bucks and in 2018 he reportedly turned down an interview for the Philadelphia 76ers’ gig. Seemingly in response to the Bucks’ pursuit, Karnisovas was promoted to GM of the Nuggets in 2017 to continue serving as right-hand man to Tim Connelly, who had just been elevated to president of basketball operations. 

Connelly and Karnisovas both made their starts as international scouts (Karnisovas with the Houston Rockets in 2008), and built from scratch one of the highest-touted international scouting departments in the NBA in Denver. Karnisovas was assistant GM when the franchise snagged Nikola Jokic with the No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, but Bulls fans will remember their draft-day trade for the rights to Jusuf Nurkic (No. 16) and Gary Harris (No. 19; all for Doug McDermott) that same night. Karnisovas is also at least partially credited for the Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. finds, and snagged solid backup point guard Monte Morris with the No. 51 pick in the 2017 draft. 

His track record as an evaluator, both at home and abroad, makes him an incredibly attractive candidate, especially considering the Bulls’ stated desire to revamp their scouting department. Before the NBA suspended its season, the Nuggets were on pace for their second straight 50-win season in a stacked Western Conference and are well-positioned for the future with Jokic and Murray inked long-term.

Fun fact: Karnisovas was also quite the ballplayer in his day. He spent four years at Seton Hall playing for P.J. Carlesimo and — a native of Lithuania — appeared in two Olympics (1992, 1996) for his home country. In fact, Karnisovas was on the Lithuania team that the ‘Dream Team’ shellacked by 51 points in the semifinals of the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Bobby Webster - General manager, Toronto Raptors

Widely considered the ‘man behind the curtain’ in the Toronto Raptors organization, Webster, 35, is perhaps the most accomplished young executive in the NBA. His basketball journey began as an intern with the Orlando Magic in 2006; from there, he took a job in the league office for seven seasons, then shipped up to Toronto to work under the vaunted Masai Ujiri in the Raptors’ front office in 2013. 

Webster is known as a cap savant, but also boasts quite the talent evaluation record in his time in Toronto. Consider some of these draft-day finds by the Raptors since Webster started on (he was promoted to GM in 2017 at the ripe age of 32). Of course, it’s difficult to say exactly how much credit to afford him versus Ujiri, but the record in unassailable:

  • Delon Wright — No. 20 in 2015

  • Norman Powell — No. 46 in 2015 (trade with Milwaukee for Greivis Vasquez)

  • Pascal Siakam — No. 27 in 2016

  • Fred VanVleet — Undrafted in 2016

  • OG Anunoby — No. 23 in 2017 (pick also acquired in Vasquez trade)

And all of that is without mentioning turning No. 9 overall pick in 2016 Jakob Pöltl (along with DeMar DeRozan and a first) into Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green; or Wright and Jonas Valanciunas into Marc Gasol. Moves that resulted in a title. Even if Webster didn’t have final say in all those transactions, he’s seen what it takes to win at the highest level in this league.

For fun facts and an infinitely in-depth breakdown of Webster’s life (his dad is from Chicago and Webster grew up a Bulls fan) and career, this profile from The Athletic is superb. Telling from that feature: Webster was apparently instrumental in the development of the Raptors’ G League affiliate, Raptors 905, which is a badge of honor considering their recent success developing unheralded players into solid contributors, and even stars. Plus, this quote from Ujiri:

“He’s (Webster) going to head a team, at some point.”

Chad Buchanan — General manager, Indiana Pacers

Buchanan is a grizzled vet. He made his name in the Portland Trail Blazers organization working primarily as director of college scouting under Kevin Pritchard through the aughts and early 2010s. His claim to fame with the Trail Blazers: As interim GM in 2011-12, Buchanan flipped Gerald Wallace to the Nets in a deal that yielded the pick that would one day become Damian Lillard. He also worked in the organization at the time of Portland drafting LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy in 2006 (via draft-day trade).

After leaving Portland, Buchanan spent a spell as assistant GM to Rich Cho with the Charlotte Hornets. During Buchanan’s time in Charlotte, some of the team’s notable moves included drafting Frank Kaminsky No. 9 overall in 2015, and signing Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams to big-money, multi-year deals — though it’s hard to know how much blame to assign Buchanan for those foibles.

His hiring as general manager (working, again, under Pritchard, who is currently president of basketball operations for the Pacers) in Indiana was reported on June 29, 2017. On June 30, the Pacers agreed to trade Paul George to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. 

Since that date, one that seemed to spark a rebuild, the Pacers are 135-94, and Oladipo and Sabonis (both locked in long-term) have developed into bonafide stars. Again, it’s difficult to know the exact delineation of responsibilities in the Pacers’ front office, but last summer’s sign-and-trade for Malcolm Brogdon and acquisition of T.J. Warren also stand out as prudent.

In terms of his MO, Buchanan is known for embracing analytics. Our K.C. Johnson talked to Thad Young, who played for the Pacers during Buchanan’s tenure, about Buchanan at length back in February, which is worth checking out.

Adam Simon — V.P. basketball operations/assistant GM, Miami Heat

Simon has been in the Heat organization for 25 years — in that period, he has climbed from video room intern (working under current coach Erik Spoelstra) to what the Heat’s website calls ‘V.P., Basketball Operations/Assistant General Manager.’

Also of note from his directory entry:

“During his time as Assistant GM, Simon has played an integral role in Miami drafting Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson and KZ Okpala and acquiring undrafted players such as Derrick Jones, Jr., Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn and Hassan Whiteside.

That should certainly be music to the Bulls’ ears. Like the Raptors, the Heat organization has earned sterling reputation as one that knows how to unearth and develop talent off the beaten path. Simon spent six years as General manager of the Heat’s G League affiliate, the Skyforce, a program that bolstered many of those names listed above. 

It should also be mentioned that, while Simon’s quarter-century tenure with the Heat is impressive, he is the only name of these four to have never held a general manager position with an NBA team.

Guys to cross off

Those hoping for a seismic splash in the form of Sam Presti or Masai Ujiri will have to temper expectations. It always felt unrealistic that the Bulls would shell out the capital required to pull in one of those two names — now, it appears unrealistic has turned to impossible. 

From our K.C. Johnson:

“The big-money scenarios of wooing Thunder vice president and general manager Sam Presti or Raptors president Masai Ujiri, both of whom are under contact, won’t happen, a source said.”

Johnson also reported that Bulls ownership isn’t expected to explore candidates with agency backgrounds (à la the New York Knicks and Leon Rose of CAA), which would rule out the likes of Justin Zanik, general manager of the Utah Jazz, or, say, Mark Bartelstein, founder of Chicago-based Priority Sports and Entertainment.

That might perturbe some, and a modicum of skepticism that this search will yield substantive change to the organization’s power structure is certainly valid. But the list of accomplished candidates growing should certainly register as encouraging for the time being.

How the interview process plays out will be telling.

Editor's note: Since the publishing of this piece, Buchanan has reportedly pulled out of consideration for a front office position with the Bulls, and Webster and Simon are reportedly not likely to receive permission from their teams to interview. The Bulls plan to interview Karnisovas, as well as Zanik, despite previous reporting by NBC Sports Chicago that the organization wouldn't go the player-agent route.

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NBA return timeline clouded as Toronto cancels events through June amid COVID-19

NBA return timeline clouded as Toronto cancels events through June amid COVID-19

Tuesday afternoon, Toronto Mayor John Torey announced the cancellation of permits for all major events through June 30. That includes festivals, parades and other large-scale, city-led events.

The question for fans combing through news clippings, hoping for the return of live sports: How does this affect the timeline for the potential resumption of the NBA, NHL and MLB seasons?

The knee-jerk reaction is to call it a major blow. That June 30 date comes after 40 previously-scheduled Blue Jays home games and would take us well beyond the previsouly-scheduled conclusion of the NBA and NHL playoffs (in which the Raptors and Maple Leafs were both locks). It's the longest a major North American city has committed to drastic, concrete social distancing guidelines — a barometer of just how murky the response, relief and recovery process from the COVID-19 pandemic still is.

RELATED: United Center to act as storage facility for Chicago food bank

Important context: As of this writing, this ordinance does not directly bar the NBA, NHL or MLB from resuming play through that date. David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period reported as much shortly after the news broke:

Still, no major sports league should or will return before every conceivable safety clearance is met. Just because this decision doesn't directly prohibit leagues from re-assembling teams, doesn't mean it won't impact their decision-making. It will. 

As will current stay-at-home edicts in the United States. Illinois' — issued by Governor J.B. Pritzker — runs through April 30. On Monday, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued a stay-at-home order in his state that runs through June 10.

For what it's worth, the NBA appears motivated to somehow resolve its season at some point in the future. Recently, the idea of clustering teams and players into central, quarantined environments has been floated by prominent national reporters. Last week, Jabari Young of CNBC cited league sources in reporting that Las Vegas has been discussed as an option for such a concept.

But the logistical and emotional hurdles involved in any hypothetical return are immense. Look at the challenges Asian basketball leagues have encountered as evidence. At this point, it's impossible to say anything with even a modicum of certainty except that there is still a long, winding road ahead. 

Actions like those the city of Toronto has taken underscore that point.

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Which team will emerge as Bucks biggest threat in the East?

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USA Today

Which team will emerge as Bucks biggest threat in the East?

With all the attention given to the battle for supremacy in Los Angeles between the Lakers’ superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the Clippers’ tandem of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, plus the spectacular debut seasons for Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, Milwaukee’s march to the NBA’s best regular season record for the second straight year has gone largely unnoticed.

The Bucks won their 50th game Tuesday night in Toronto, rallying to beat the defending NBA champs one night after surviving an overtime battle in Washington. Milwaukee has already clinched a playoff spot in the East and currently holds an eight-game lead over the Raptors for home court advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

We all remember what happened last season when the Bucks won the first two games of the conference finals against Toronto in Milwaukee, then saw their season come crashing to a close by dropping the next four. Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse devised a system to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo out of the lane, and the Bucks were lost when the MVP couldn’t carry the offense as he had done all season.

So, which team will pose the biggest threat to the Bucks in the East this year?

Toronto has been the hottest team in the conference over the last six weeks, winning 17 of their last 19 games. Nurse has done an excellent job of adjusting his rotation to fill in for the extended injury absences of Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and top reserve Norman Powell.

Fourth year guard Fred VanVleet and third year forward O.G. Anunoby are having their best seasons, and Raptors’ President of Basketball operations Masai Ujiri continues to find and develop young prospects that went ignored by the rest of the league. The latest examples are young big man Chris Boucher and versatile wing Terence Davis, who have been key members of the rotation during the current hot streak.

The Raptors have the length up front to give Antetokounmpo problems in a seven-game series, and they certainly don’t fear the Bucks after beating them in the conference finals last spring. Yes, Kawhi Leonard has moved on, but Siakam quickly took over Leonard’s role as an All-Star caliber two-way wing, averaging 23.7 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. If the Raptors are 100% healthy for the playoffs, they will be a tough out.

Philadelphia was supposed to emerge as a title contender this season after adding Al Horford in free agency to join Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, giving the 76ers the length to challenge Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. But Horford and Embiid have not played well together and now Simmons is expected to be out for multiple weeks because of a nerve impingement in his back. It’s possible the Sixers will get things together by the start of the playoffs, but given their 9-20 road record, it’s hard to imagine them winning a series without home court advantage.

Miami had been the talk of the league for the first half of the season, but the Heat has hit a bit of a road bump lately, dropping six of their last eight games. Pat Riley made a deal at the deadline, giving up former lottery pick Justise Winslow to acquire veteran Andre Iguodala from Memphis, but it’s hard to say how much Iguodala has left in the tank at 36 after all those extended playoff runs with Golden State.

Jimmy Butler will continue to provide scoring and demand maximum effort from the young players on the Heat roster, but it doesn’t look like the Heat have the experience or scoring depth to be labeled a serious contender. Right now, they would have to be considered the underdog in a 4-5 match-up against Philadelphia, with the winner having to face Milwaukee in the conference semi-finals. Not exactly the best path for playoff success.

That leaves the Celtics, who got drummed out of the playoffs by Milwaukee in five games last season. In case you haven’t been watching Boston lately, third year forward Jayson Tatum is making the jump to elite status. Tatum is averaging 30.3 points a game over his last ten, including a 41-point effort against LeBron and the Lakers Sunday, and a 36-point performance in a win at Portland on Tuesday, which included a career high eight 3-pointers in 12 attempts.

Tatum’s emergence gives Boston a clear-cut number one scoring option to match up against Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in a potential conference final. Fourth year swingman Jaylen Brown is also enjoying a breakout season, increasing his scoring average by over seven points from a year ago to 20.4, while All-Star guard Kemba Walker has provided stability and leadership at the point, something that was sorely lacking during Kyrie Irving’s tumultuous two seasons in Boston.

Gordon Hayward is 100% healthy again and playing at high level, while defensive specialist Marcus Smart has suddenly emerged as a reliable 3-point threat. Sure, the Celtics have some questions in the middle, where Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts. But second year center Robert Williams is expected to return from a hip injury soon and could emerge as the shot blocker/rebounder the C’s need to go up against Giannis and the Lopez twins.

We’re still about seven weeks away from the start of the playoffs but based on Boston’s scoring depth and the emergence of Tatum as a go-to option late in games, I would give the Celtics a slight edge over Toronto as the Bucks’ top challenger in the East. 

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