Bulls rumor mill: Buyer beware when it comes to Jazz’ Rudy Gobert

Arturas Karnisovas has always been honest.

When the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations was hired from the Nuggets, he promised to be deliberate in making staff changes. He was.

Going into last summer, he insisted on adding talent to make the Bulls a playoff-caliber organization. He did.

So when discussing the follow-up plans to that playoff appearance, Karnisovas again offered a vague idea of what he’s looking to accomplish this summer.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said. “I understand that this roster is just one year old. I think besides its age, playing together for a longer period of time is going to contribute to familiarity and feeling more comfortable in tough situations.”

It was in those tough situations that the Bulls often shrunk, especially against the NBA’s elite teams.

But Karnisovas and the rest of the front office haven’t lost faith in Zach LaVine, whom they figure to offer a max contract in free agency as they run back the core for one more go.

That sounded like the basis of the plan when Karnisovas last spoke to the media. Continuity was the buzzword of that news conference.

But that doesn’t mean the Rudy Gobert rumors don’t have merit.

Gobert was linked to the Bulls for most of the second half of the season as the team’s defensive efficiency declined. Starting center Nikola Vucevic was oft-cited as one of the reasons why.

Fair or unfair, without a healthy Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball to cause havoc in the backcourt, Vucevic’s inability to protect the rim was more glaring.

Gobert would change that.

The Jazz big man has been an elite shot blocker for years but is now on a sinking ship. Coach Quin Snyder resigned, and Gobert’s on-court partnership with Donovan Mitchell reportedly has gone from counseling to irreconcilable differences.

If Gobert is the one who’s going to be moved, on the surface, the Bulls seem to be a good landing spot for the three-time Defensive Player of the Year. They could send Vucevic’s expiring contract in a package that could include Patrick Williams or Coby White and instantly become one of the better defensive teams in the East with Gobert, Ball and Caruso in the mix.

But a deeper dive into a deal like that also shows some red flags.

First, Gobert already has a max contract. If LaVine stays, the Bulls would have two players in the $40 million range by 2023-24 — and two players who have a history of playing on just one side of the floor.

Never a good idea.

Secondly, because of injuries and a pandemic, Williams basically has just one full NBA season under his belt, untapped and raw skills and youth (he’s still only 20). If Utah demands Williams over White, the Bulls might be reluctant.

Finally, don’t underestimate Karnisovas’ belief in Vucevic. Because of the big man’s ability to play outside as well as create, he maximizes the talents of LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, especially in offensive spacing.

Gobert would completely change how the Bulls run their offense, and it might not be for the better with the two All-Stars.

“He was one of our most durable players,” Karnisovas said of Vucevic in the exit meeting. “And I think if you think about the rotations, guards going in and out, wings going in and out, I think he would have been probably the hardest guy to replace. But he stayed available, and he’s been a vital part of what we run on offense, and all year long just being available, he’s been great for us.”

Take Karnisovas at his word. So far, he has been true to it.

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