Looking back on it, Arturas Karnisovas wasn’t messing around.
Addressing reporters on a May afternoon, the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations admitted his disappointment about the team again missing the postseason — and also promised change was coming.
“We place expectations on our team about winning games,” Karnisovas said. “I like that every game down the stretch felt like the playoffs and constant pressure to grow. Unfortunately, we didn’t handle it effectively or consistently. In that, I see tremendous room and need for growth and improvement.
“We will continue being aggressive in our efforts to make this team better, whether that’s through trades, free agency or the draft. We will not settle for mediocrity here.”
What followed were sweeping roster changes.
How sweeping? Look at the box score from the Bulls’ 20-point loss to the Hawks in their season opener last Dec. 23.
Lauri Markkanen (21 points that evening) was sent to the Cavaliers in a sign-and-trade late last month. Starting center Wendell Carter Jr. never made it past the trade deadline in March, shipped off to the Magic with reserve Otto Porter Jr.
Chandler Hutchison, Daniel Gafford, Thad Young, Garrett Temple, Luke Kornet, Tomas Satoransky . . . gone, gone, gone, all of them.
To put in perspective how serious Karnisovas was when he said he wouldn’t settle for mediocrity, only guards Zach LaVine and Coby White are left of the core he inherited when he took the job in April 2020.
Is it a sign he has no patience, or an indictment of just how poorly the old regime handled a rebuild that started in 2017?
Fall camp is just over two weeks away, and on paper, the Bulls’ four-year playoff drought — their longest since the Tim Floyd era, when they went six seasons without a postseason appearance — should be coming to an end.
But that doesn’t mean Karnisovas is done. If there’s one thing he has shown so far, it’s that he won’t rest until the team is back to contending. Not a sixth or seventh seed, not a quick visit to the postseason for a round or two, but becoming a threat in the Eastern Conference, which the Bulls haven’t been since coach Tom Thibodeau’s ouster in 2015.
What does that mean for the reimagined team Karnisovas is about to roll out?
Rent, don’t buy. Every player will be under close watch, and judging by what Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley have shown in the last 17 months, so will the team’s staff. Billy Donovan and Karnisovas have as good a relationship as a head coach and an exec can have, but you’d better believe Karnisovas wants to see Donovan get the most out of a talented roster. If young players such as forward Patrick Williams and White don’t make jumps from last year, expect some replacements among the development staff.
Then there’s LaVine, who has been given a fellow All-Star in center Nikola Vucevic (acquired at the trade deadline), plus defensive-minded guards Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso and veteran scorer DeMar DeRozan (all acquired this summer). LaVine is due a big payday after this season. The expectation is he’ll get it from the Bulls — if the team has a strong showing.
But if they’re still mediocre in Karnisovas’ eyes? Don’t be so sure LaVine is a Bull next season.