Arturas Karnisovas doesn’t panic. In the handful of Zoom calls the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations has had with reporters since taking over last spring, it’s clear in the way he speaks and carries himself: Setbacks are for other teams to dwell on. With Karnisovas, there’s always the next plan.
But that mentality may be tested after the Bulls came up dry in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft lottery.
The Bulls weren’t banking on help from the lottery after acquiring All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu from the Magic at the March 25 trade deadline in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and first-round picks in the 2021 and 2023 drafts. The 2021 pick was top-four-protected, meaning the Bulls would retain it if they ended up fourth or better in the draft lottery. But based on their regular-season finish, their chances of that were just 20.3%.
The Magic instead get the pick and will draft at No. 8 on July 29.
Last month, Karnisovas sounded comfortable with not having a first-round selection.
“If we don’t get our pick, we still have a second-round pick,’’ he said. “We have free agency and trades to get better. We have a lot of free agents this year, and I think leading to Aug. 1 [the start of free agency] is going to be huge preparation for us.”
Considering the strength of this year’s draft class — especially the lottery portion of it — the Bulls may need to get creative. They can try to hit on a second-round pick. But if that doesn’t work out, they also can move forward knowing they have considerable allure with a double-double machine in Vucevic and the 1-2 punch of Vucevic and Zach LaVine. Teams with multiple foundation All-Stars — flawed or not — aren’t common, and that could speak louder to the Bulls’ possible free-agent targets than drafting a 19-year-old prospect who could fizzle by Year 3.
“I think when you have a foundation of, let’s say, two All-Stars in one place, it’s easier to add additional things that we need,’’ Karnisovas said. “So we’re going to discuss the needs of the team, and we’ll attack it during free agency.”
In addition to getting the No. 8 pick from the Bulls, the Magic also hit on No. 5 overall in the lottery.
But the two biggest winners were the Pistons, who landed the No. 1 pick and likely will select Oklahoma State point guard Cade Cunningham, and the Raptors, who pulled off what Karnisovas did last season, jumping from the No. 7 slot to get the No. 4 pick.
There’s a good chance Gonzaga point guard Jalen Suggs could be there for the Raptors, which would be a gut-punch for the Bulls. Suggs would be the ideal point alongside LaVine, not only because of his defense and play-making but because of the “it” factor.
The No. 7 spot seemed to be a lock for the Bulls with under two weeks left in the regular season, but the Raptors lost 10 of their last 11 games while the Bulls won five meaningless games in that time to move up.