Honeymoon phase is just about over as Bulls regime enters Season 3
The cleanup was vast for executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley when they took over the front office, but with fall camp about to start next week for their third season in charge, expectations have been raised and results must follow.
Even the benefit of the doubt has its statute of limitations.
The Bulls’ front office is about to find out exactly when that runs out.
Hint: The honeymoon is just about over.
This will be the third season for executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley, and, on the surface, it should bring about even more excitement to an NBA scene that hasn’t been relevant since the old regime made the embarrassing mistake of thinking it was smarter than former coach Tom Thibodeau.
And by the time John Paxson and Gar Forman made the erroneous decision to trade Jimmy Butler, trusting in their ability to undertake a rebuild in 2017, their job graves already were dug.
To Karnisovas’ credit, he inherited a mess but showed an ability for a quick cleanup. By the end of their first season, Karnisovas and Eversley had acquired a second All-Star in Nikola Vucevic, had a coach in Billy Donovan who was respected by the players and the league and had guard Zach LaVine playing like a top-25 player.
Then in Year 2, the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade was one of the best moves of the 2021 offseason, Ayo Dosunmu was a second-round steal and, more important, the Bulls were a playoff team for the first time since Butler was sent out.
In markets such as Denver, Cleveland or Detroit, that would be quite a story.
But this is Chicago. The Bulls are a global brand. A statue in the atrium of the United Center serves as a reminder.
Karnisovas and Eversley have done a solid job of flipping the house for a lot of happy customers, but a closer inspection shows some defects and shortcuts that could be exposed this season.
First and foremost is the decision to focus on “continuity.’’
That was the buzzword the day after the Bucks sent the Bulls home in five games in the first round of the playoffs and remained the buzzword all offseason.
It was almost unavoidable as a result of all the injuries but also because the front office sort of painted itself into a roster corner by sending out key draft assets for Vucevic. Either way, there was no straying from that blueprint.
Andre Drummond and Goran Dragic were added for depth, but the big move was maxing LaVine for $215 million over the next five years. And the Bulls must hope the training room will be less crowded.
The problem with that plan is that there are 14 other teams in the Eastern Conference, and five of them already were better than the Bulls last season, and nothing has changed there.
The Heat, Bucks and Raptors stayed the course, the Celtics added Malcolm Brogdon and the 76ers picked up P.J. Tucker.
Then there are the teams that reside in the same area code as the Bulls.
The Nets are poised to jump to the top of the East by keeping Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons after a turbulent summer, the Hawks added All-Star Dejounte Murray and the Cavaliers acquired Donovan Mitchell to go along with an up-and-coming roster that has arrived.
There’s a good chance the Bulls could win close to 50 games and still be battling for a play-in spot.
The second concern is the idea that a suddenly healthy Lonzo Ball (knee) and Alex Caruso catapult the Bulls to contender status.
In five seasons, Ball has missed an average of 32 games per year. And while Caruso has been more available, his playing style is better suited for Sundays wearing a helmet and shoulder pads.
Finally, there are the two elephants in the room.
LaVine is being paid like a top-20 player, and that means he should play like a top-20 player at both ends. Patrick Williams was a No. 4 overall pick, and that means playing like a top pick. If either comes up short, the failure gets filed under big misses by this front office.
Karnisovas was hired to be an organizational-changer. He has done that so far.
But rebuilding back toward mediocrity never should’ve been the job description.
This season will tell a lot. Karnisovas & Co. are about to find out just how much.