Bulls are without a draft pick after losing first-rounder to Magic in lottery

Karnisovas’ focus now should be on looking to make a deal to get back into the draft or, more likely, start preparing for free agency.

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Bulls vice president Arturas Karnisovas.

Bulls vice president Arturas Karnisovas.

Chicago Bulls

Bulls executive vice president of business operations Arturas Karnisovas found himself at a crossroads in mid-February.

He was watching his team run in place, sitting 11th in the Eastern Conference, and wasn’t getting the offers he was looking for as the trade deadline came and went.

So he made a decision.

‘‘We chose the lane which was to stay with the same group,’’ Karnisovas said last month.

On Tuesday, the Bulls paid a price for that decision.

The Bulls were unable to buck the odds, as they did when they won the 2008 NBA Draft Lottery and selected Derrick Rose, and came up in the 11th spot. That handed their first-round pick, which they would have kept had they landed in the top four, to the Magic as compensation for the trade that brought them Nikola Vucevic in 2021.

The Spurs won the lottery and the right to select 7-2 French phenom Victor Wembanyama in the draft next month. The Hornets will pick second and the Trail Blazers third.

Considering the Bulls don’t have a second-round pick, either, because of the trade with the Wizards that brought them Otto Porter Jr. in 2019, Karnisovas’ focus now should be on looking to make a deal to get back into the draft or, more likely, start preparing for free agency.

Either way, questions about how Karnisovas handled the roster around the deadline are legitimate.

Could he have sold off pieces such as Vucevic or forward DeMar DeRozan to acquire a draft asset and perhaps allow the Bulls to sink lower in the standings and increase their odds of jumping into the top four?

That’s easy to ask now. But according to Karnisovas: ‘‘Obviously, you need to know what was available. And if there were no deals to make this team better, those are the decisions we made and stayed pat.’’

In Karnisovas’ mind, it was a numbers game.

Say the Bulls had decided to ‘‘rest’’ key starters in their last 23 regular-season games and gone 8-15 instead of 14-9 (as they did) the rest of the way. Their chances to win the lottery and land the No. 1 pick would have been 9% instead of 1.8%.

To Karnisovas’ way of thinking, that wasn’t worth it.

But that leaves the front office still trying to tweak the roster and, as of now, not having draft picks this summer to do so. Considering they also don’t have a ton of salary-cap space, Karnisovas will have to get creative.

‘‘I’m very hard on myself,’’ Karnisovas said of turning the roster around. ‘‘I know partnering with [coach] Billy [Donovan], we’re very hard on ourselves. We beat ourselves up after every loss and what we can do better. I think because of how many close games we lost this year, it was frustrating. But I prefer this script versus last year, when we were losing by huge numbers to good teams.

‘‘The reason we tried to stay patient with this team around the trade deadline is because this team deserved a chance to figure things out. . . . Even though we failed at the end, it’s information for me. I’m constantly learning stuff about this group so I can make better decisions when the time comes.’’

Will that come this offseason, or will Karnisovas run this core back with a few changes, then look to overhaul it during or after the 2023-24 campaign?

Guard Zach LaVine knew what he wanted to see. With DeRozan having one year left on his contract, LaVine is confident the duo still hasn’t hit its ceiling.

‘‘When we’re both on, it shows,’’ LaVine said. ‘‘We’re able to take over games. But we just need to do a little bit more and figure out how to get that to a little more winning.

‘‘I think that’s the thing that we were both a little bit frustrated about: How can we both play off each other better?’’

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