Arturas Karnisovas paved the way for this offseason in January. The Chicago Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations sat down with Mully & Haugh of 670 The Score to discuss his new team’s immediate success. Viewed at the time as one of the best teams in the NBA, questions circled about the trade deadline that sat roughly one month away. Would the Chicago Bulls go all-in on a Finals push or would they sit tight and see this group through?
The front office opted for the latter, and the Bulls proceeded to watch themselves get bounced by the defending champions in a mostly uncompetitive five games. Still, Karnisovas made it clear at the time how important he thought battle scars were.
“I like this group. I like this group a lot,” Karnisovas said back in January. “Like I said, we’re competing right now this season. It’s a new group, right? Teams that are close by, like Brooklyn, Milwaukee, Philly, they have their group for two or more years at least, and we’ve had this group for three months. We’re still learning, we’re still adjusting. I like this group a lot.”
Of course, the NBA tends to move fast. Karnisovas’ perception of this team could have changed over the last three months, especially after an 8-19 record post-All-Star-break. But I think it’s noteworthy that it didn’t sound like Karnisovas was strictly talking about the trade deadline when he uttered those words above. The front office leader pointed directly toward the idea of keeping a core intact for more than one season, and it sure sounds like he did that again in several exit interviews on Thursday.
“I know they want to have continuity, that’s for sure,” Nikola Vucevic told reporters on Thursday. “They want to see what we can do. As far as moves or something, I don’t really know, that’s their job. But I know they want to continue to build a team that can win and compete to the highest level.”
Nikola Vucevic shared similar words one night before, saying after the Bulls’ 116-100 elimination loss that “building a winning team that can go deep takes time.” This message is one that clearly hits home for the team’s other top players, as DeMar DeRozan preached a similar sentiment in his conversation with the media on Thursday.
“Oh, yeah, for sure. Definitely going to be that,” DeRozan said when asked about keeping the Bulls’ core together. “That’s where it starts. All the great teams that play for something, that play deep, that compete for a championship, that got to be there first and foremost – that continuity.”
None of this is to say massive changes are completely off the table. We have to always remember the NBA is as fluid as they come. With that said, reassuring star players to this level that the main pieces will return before quickly proceeding to do the opposite sounds like bad business. I know you aren’t necessarily going to tell them “everything is on the table,” but these are two players who sound very confident that the internal plan is to give a very similar roster another go-around.
Oh, and it sounds like that’s exactly what Lonzo Ball wants:
“I would love to run it back,” Ball said. “I was unhealthy this year. Caruso went down. Pat was pretty much out all the until the playoffs. Zach was playing, everybody knows, he was pretty much playing hurt this whole year. If everybody can get healthy and come back, I don’t see why we couldn’t run it back.”
I don’t disagree with Ball. While there is no doubt in my mind this team must improve around the margins (especially when it comes to adding shooting and size), we did watch a healthy Bulls core play some extremely strong basketball this season. They rose to the top of the East for a reason, and adding these battle wounds into the mix should only help them understand what it takes to win at a higher level.
Is it possible all of this is a bunch of hoopla and an extra aggressive front office will decide to be … well … extra aggressive? Absolutely, but I think it’s blatant that the expectation behind the scenes is for the nucleus of this team to return (aka LaVine, DeRozan, Vucevic, Ball, Caruso, and Williams).
And if the comments from these players weren’t enough to make you believe that, Jamal Collier of ESPN also shared this short but poignant quote from an anonymous Bulls front office member: “It’s progress,” they said. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”
I guess we’ll see what happens. Actions always speak louder than words.