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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
15 Apr 2023
Tribune News Service

NextImg:The Chicago Bulls missed the playoffs, but don’t expect them to tear up the roster for a rebuild: ‘It’s not on our minds’

A rebuild is not in sight for the Chicago Bulls.

Well before their losing season came to a dismal close Friday with a play-in loss to the Miami Heat, Bulls fans had formed a chorus of demands for the team to shake up the core of the roster for the 2023-24 season.

But executive vice president of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas made it clear that any fans hoping for a roster overhaul would be disappointed at the end of the offseason.

“That’s been thrown around all this season — ‘Blow up, rebuild’ — but it’s not on our minds,” Karnišovas said Saturday at the Advocate Center. “I think the moment we changed our minds in 2021 to focus on winning and trying to build a sustainable program here. That’s what we’re focused right now on.”

The 2021 vision that Karnišovas cited was clear-cut at the time — build a core with DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević and surround them with “defensive, high-energy guys” to create an engine for success. But that vision has yet to pay off.

The Bulls started the 2021-22 season with flashes of brilliance only to limp across the finish line and crash out of the first round of the playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks. This season was a simple regression as the Bulls finished under .500 and missed the playoffs after a collapse in the play-in tournament.

Yet Karnišovas still found enough solace in the team’s 14-9 finish after the All-Star break to remain confident in his plan to retain its core for another year.

“The result is not what we wanted and we look like a .500 team,” Karnišovas said. “But the way we finished the season, I think we’re on the right path.”

Karnišovas has cited patience throughout the last two years. The front office beseeched fans to give the group a little more time — for Vučević to jell in a new environment, for DeRozan and LaVine to adjust to one another, for the team to absorb the loss of Ball.

That patience has has translated into inaction, most recently at this year’s trade deadline when the Bulls stood pat, bringing in Patrick Beverley as a buyout addition as a lone signing without making a deal.

“This team deserved the chance to figure things out,” Karnišovas said. “I don’t know if we could have made any changes that could have done better than 14-9. It’s very difficult to do.”

So where do the Bulls go from here?

Improving the point guard position and 3-point shooting will be focuses of the offseason. That’s a familiar refrain for the Bulls, who listed both areas as goals last summer before making modest additions in Goran Dragić and Andre Drummond.

Karnišovas voiced relative open-mindedness toward exploring trade options to better the roster.

“My responsibility is to look at everything,” he said. “At the end of the day, to be a .500 team is not good enough. It’s not good enough for this organization, it’s not good enough for the fan base. They deserve better. We have to move forward, but I’ll be open to anything.’

But his answers quickly made it clear that “open to anything” is a much narrower field — especially when it comes to retaining key players who will enter free agency this summer.

Does Karnišovas plan to bring back Vučević? “He’s a huge part of this team. We hope to retain him.”

What about re-signing fourth-year guard Coby White? “Absolutely.”

And second-year guard Ayo Dosunmu? “It’s going to be a big offseason for him, but I hope he’s here for a long time.”

If those answers hold true, it will leave little wiggle room for the Bulls as they navigate this summer. Vučević and White are the two most expensive players entering free agency, while young and developing players such as Dosunmu will expect to take a step up in their salary. And the Bulls already are closing in on hitting the salary cap after signing LaVine to a maximum contract last summer.

The underachieving season could be ascribed to the uncertainty created by Lonzo Ball’s mystifying knee injury. But the stepback occurred in the absence of the team’s former injury woes.

Patrick Williams and Vučević played all 82 games. LaVine did not miss a game because of injury after the first month of the season. Eight players logged 67 games or more, accounting for 82% availability on the season. But the Bulls still couldn’t finish above .500.

They improved in some areas, including a defense that finished in the top five in the league. But even the Bulls’ record against teams above .500 — which modestly improved to 21-30 — don’t reflect meaningful steps toward a franchise that can compete at the top of the Eastern Conference.

“We are a 40-42 team,” Karnišovas said. “We have to find solutions and tweaks to do better. We’re accountable for this record. And we’re going to try to change that this offseason.”