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Bulls hand keys to Arturas Karnisovas as front-office reboot begins

The former Nuggets general manager is now the head of basketball operations for the Bulls, but the restructuring of the front office is far from over.

Arturas Karnisovas will replace John Paxson as the Bulls’ head of basketball operations.
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The first piece of the Bulls’ front-office restructuring is in place.

The organization finalized a deal to make former Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas the head of basketball operations on Thursday.

Karnisovas, who was the only candidate to have multiple interviews the last few days — including a final conversation with Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf — will replace John Paxson.

A source said Paxson, who will move into an advisory role, has been kept on as a sounding board for Jerry and Michael Reinsdorf. Paxson would only offer opinions on basketball matters if Karnisovas asks. This is completely Karnisovas’ show now.

Karnisovas, 48, is the initial piece, but the restructuring is far from complete.

The first outside-the-organization hire for the Reinsdorfs, Karnisovas will have to find a general manager to replace Gar Forman, and he’s also in charge of building up the other departments, such as scouting, analytics and player development.

The Bulls historically have kept a small front office, with a handful of personnel wearing multiple hats. They weren’t keeping up with trends in the modern NBA, which has seen front offices expand across the board during the last five years.

Karnisovas will have full decision-making power over the basketball operations, including what to do with Forman, coach Jim Boylen and the entire coaching staff. He was even queried about Paxson’s presence, but a source indicated that Karnisovas had no issues with the Reinsdorfs keeping Paxson around. The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Paxson was poised to step down from the organization if asked, but it never came down to that.

So what exactly have the Bulls done in handing the keys to Karnisovas?

The move showed that Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf was serious about a new direction when the Sun-Times broke the story of the team’s imminent restructuring on All-Star Sunday.

The Lithuanian-born Karnisovas played his college ball at Seton Hall before making his mark on the court overseas. He got his foot in the NBA door with the Rockets, working as an international scout, before eventually grabbing a spot in Denver.

He quickly gained a reputation as a great communicator, as well as a guy who always seemed to have the bigger plan in mind.

Michael Reinsdorf has a bigger plan in mind other than the sinking rebuild in Year 3, and it will be up to Karnisovas to start carrying that plan out.

The search process did, however, generate some negativity.

There were multiple reports that the search angered several African American executives around the league who felt that people of color weren’t being sought out by the Bulls.

But a source close to the situation indicated that Michael Reins-dorf reached out to multiple minority candidates to try to get interviews but was denied permission by their current organizations and in some cases simply was turned down.

The Reinsdorfs always have prided themselves on being sensitive to diversity and embracing different backgrounds.

Jerry Reinsdorf hired Jerry Manuel, Ken Williams and Ozzie Guillen for the most important off-the-field positions with the White Sox.

Since Michael Reinsdorf started accruing power within the Bulls’ organization during the last three seasons, Shawn Respert and Roy Rogers have joined the coaching staff as assistants, and Karen Stack has been promoted to an assistant position on the staff.