Arturas Karnisovas is no stranger to the bob-and-weave.
The Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations is actually well-trained in that art, especially when it comes to publicly discussing the expected upcoming contract negotiations with Zach LaVine.
“Obviously, we’re looking forward to talking to Zach in the future,’’ Karnisovas said last month, when wrapping up the 2020-21 season with the media. “I think looking at his numbers and how well he played this year, he improved in points, field-goal percentage, three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, assists, rebounds . . . He was a much better player this year.
“Again, we sat down with Zach and talked about this summer because we’re going to ask players to do more. Because obviously the results are telling us it’s not good enough. And he’s looking forward to the challenge. So we had those conversations.’’
And he left it at that.
LaVine wasn’t as vague when discussing his next payday.
“I definitely want what I deserve, and whatever that is I’ll have it coming to me,’’ LaVine insisted.
Between LaVine’s expectations and now the news this week that Coby White had left shoulder surgery that could put him on the shelf for the start of training camp, there’s real reasons why the guard position remains very fragile.
If LaVine wants to do his organization a solid and still be considered a max player, he can re-up this summer, making $29 million by 2025-26, the final season of the deal. If the two can’t get on that page, the Bulls would have to use the Bird rights to max him, but that puts him close to $39 million per year through the 2025-26 season.
First things first, however, as the organization still has to address the problem at starting point guard. The Bulls were putting a lot on White’s plate for this upcoming summer, looking for him to make a huge jump going into Year 3. Now, there’s questions if he can even be healthy for the start of Year 3.
That’s why the Bulls could clear some cap room by moving off of Tomas Satoransky and turning away from the team option on Ryan Arcidiacono to upgrade the position.
That could lead to an offer for restricted free agent Lonzo Ball or at least kicking the tires on veteran free agent Mike Conley, but both are fiscal long shots. Veteran combo guard Garrett Temple wants to come back and could do so on the cheap.
But the most important date on Karnisovas’ calendar is June 22, the night of the draft lottery, when the Bulls find out if they can turn a 20.3% Hail Mary into lottery gold.
Part of the cost in adding Nikola Vucevic at the deadline was a protected 2021 first-round pick to Orlando. If the Bulls land in the top four of the lottery, the pick stays with them. That means a shot at adding a point guard such as Cade Cunningham or a Jalen Suggs.
Both would be organizational game changers moving forward.
POSITION BREAKDOWN: GUARDS
WHAT THE BULLS HAVE
Coby White, Zach LaVine, Tomas Satoransky, Garrett Temple, Ryan Arcidiacono, Javonte Green, Denzel Valentine, Devon Dotson.
WHO COULD BE ON THE MOVE
Satoransky is guaranteed only $5 million of his $10 million salary in2021-22, while Temple, Green, Valentine and Dotson all are potential free agents. If the Bulls want to bring Arcidiacono back, it will cost $3 million.
If Lady Luck can smile on the Bulls and allow them to retain a top-four pick, Cade Cunningham or Jalen Suggs could provide instant impact at point guard, allowing White to play a sixth-man role moving forward.
Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry and even Mike Conley likely will be too pricey, but that doesn’t mean a phone call won’t be made. Even the bidding war for Lonzo Ball could be too rich for the Bulls unless space is made with Satoransky and Thad Young pushed out.
Spencer Dinwiddie has the $12.3 million player option for 2021-22, but could he turn it down and look for a starting situation and more security? The Bulls offer both.