Bulls Stand Pat at the Deadline, So What Comes Next?

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Bulls Stand Pat at the Deadline, So What Comes Next?

Chicago Bulls

Patience is a virtue, and Arturas Karnisovas might as well have been preaching that at his post-trade-deadline press conference earlier today.

The Chicago Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations wasted no time describing his team’s deadline approach, pointing toward the success thus far as a reason not to drastically shake things up.

“We are looking for continuity. This group has shown that we can compete in the Eastern Conference, and our record reflects it,” Karnisovas said. “We were taking calls, but basically the mutual feeling with all our group: Let’s get our guys back, we’re going to have enough time in the regular season to see what this group can do when they’re all healthy.”

Karnisovas used different words to reiterate this point over and over during his Thursday talk with reporters. He came off perfectly content with the path chosen, even in the wake of numerous additions by top-10 teams in the conference. And, hey, it’s hard to blame him.

As Karnisovas alluded to, this was a Chicago Bulls team that held a top-5 net rating in the NBA going into December. What ensued was a COVID outbreak and subsequent injury nightmare. Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso joined Patrick Williams on the sideline after each suffering injuries that required surgery. Derrick Jones Jr. also hurt his knee before going on to break his finger while rehabbing. Yet, fast forward to today, and the Chicago Bulls still hold a 34-21 record. DeMar DeRozan is an All-Star starter, Zach LaVine is an All-Star reserve, and Nikola Vucevic is back to playing like the 2x All-Star his resume suggests. The trio combined for 81 points against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday night, further underscoring how tough to beat this team can still be.

The Bulls may no longer hold the East’s top seed, but they do sit comfortably in the mix. If they can remain in that spot over the next month or so, why can’t a healthy Bulls team reclaim the advantage? They’ve done it before, and this front office clearly believes they can do it again.

With that said … Two problems: (1) Staying in the mix is a lot easier said than done, and (2) this will not be the same east conference the healthy Bulls once ruled.

Six of the East’s top-9 teams were active Thursday afternoon. Philly added James Harden, Brooklyn added Ben Simmons and Seth Curry, Boston added Derrick White and Daniel Theis, Toronto added Thaddeus Young, Milwaukee added Serge Ibaka, and Charlotte added Montrezl Harrell (the Cavaliers also added Caris LeVert earlier this week). Yes, that’s a wide range of talent, but they all share one thing in common: They are win-now moves that made their new teams better on paper.

Is it still possible a healthy Bulls team is still better than a handful of these teams? Sure, but isn’t it also possible they’re not? Isn’t it possible the gap has been closed in some cases, especially over the next month as these teams use their improved roster while the Bulls wait for a clean injury report?

I’m not trying to say that Karnisovas made the wrong decision, but I’m also not going to pretend like I’m totally comfortable with the route he took. Injuries or not, it felt like there were moves to make to bolster this bench and frontcourt situation. But, to be fair, I guess that could still happen.

Karnisovas didn’t provide much when asked about the team’s interest in the buyout market, but he did confirm that they would give it a look:

“When the dust settles after the trade deadline, I think we’re going to look at some things. But we’ll see what happens, what’s going to present,” Karnisovas said. “It depends on who we’re going to have available obviously leading to the All-Star Game. I think we got four games to go, we have to close out strong and we’ll see what happens.”

Considering we’ve seen this team move around roster pieces like Alize Johnson and Devon Dotson this season, I do believe the Bulls will be active on the buyout market. Players that satisfy areas of need will surely be available, but that also doesn’t mean the Bulls will get those players. The buyout market can be a crapshoot and rarely are true difference-makers added through this process. Of course, that isn’t to say it can’t be done (some good names are out there this year), but it is a less impactful game to play.

Look, we don’t know exactly what the conversations looked like behind the scenes. It’s possible the Bulls did plan to make some moves but simply didn’t have the assets to pull it together. Regardless, the fact of the matter is the only re-enforcements they have coming their way as of now will not arrive until at least March. So this team that is 8-11 since January 9th will have to try to stay afloat and avoid a significant drop-off toward the play-in tournament. Then, they’ll have to quickly prove they can be just as dominant as they were over the first couple of months in a revamped East. Karnisovas believes they can do it … do you?

Check out Karnisovas’ full thoughts on the deadline below:

Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is the Lead Bulls Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.