Arturas Karnisovas’ Sudden and Dramatic Fall From Grace
Let me start with a long-winded metaphor.
My now-fiancee and I went to high school together. And a memory I’ll never forget happened at one of our beginning-of-the-year dances.
It wasn’t a formal event like homecoming or prom, but the school still provided a DJ, food, and some activities. One of those activities came in the form of a giant inflatable sweeper arm. You know, those things where you stand on a little platform and must attempt to jump over a foam arm that spins at an increasing rate. To her credit, she wanted to give it a go.
I was truly impressed as the post spun around the first few times. I mean, I already had a crush on the girl, but now she was proving to hold her own in a Wipeout-themed competition!? That kind of stuff is really important to a 17-year-old boy, folks!
Then, the moment came.
This cute girl who was smiling and hopping with nothing but confidence didn’t time things right. And, look, I’m marrying this woman so you can trust me when I say this comes from a place of love: What happened next was one of the least graceful things I’ve ever seen in my life.
She didn’t just fall. Her toe got clipped, leading to her face meeting the ground first before the rest of her body followed … with force. Fortunately, enclosed in an inflatable circle, she only walked away with some shattered pride. But that image of her is forever planted in my brain. And that image also happened to be what came to mind when I looked at this year’s executive of the year voting.
Ah, yes, we’ve arrived at the point! Arturas Karnisovas’ fall from grace has been as sudden and clumsy as my fiancee’s high school tumble.
During the 2021-22 campaign, he was jumping with joy and proved many folks wrong around the league. Sure, his team may have been bounced in a five-game first-round series, but that was against the defending champions. He was still the guy that wisely signed DeMar DeRozan, added Lonzo Ball, snatched Alex Caruso, found a diamond in the rough in Javonte Green, and shockingly hired one of the best free-agent head coaches in Billy Donovan.
Karnisovas wasn’t just holding his own, he was in the mix to be named the NBA’s top executive. The Grizzlies’ Zach Kleiman ended up receiving the honor after his Memphis team won 56 games. However, Karnisovas matched Cleveland’s Kolby Altman with 27 total points to finish tied for the second in the voting.
Fast forward one year later, and both Kleiman and Altman remained on the Executive of the Year ballot. The Grizzlies’ front office leader received a couple of second-place votes and a third-place vote. Meanwhile, Altman finished second overall again with seven first-place votes behind the winner Monte McNair of the Sacramento Kings.
What about Karnisovas? His name failed to appear on the 15-man list.
Not only does it serve as a painful reminder of the Bulls’ 40-win season, but it’s an indictment of just how little Karnisovas has done since the 2021 offseason. The only two players added in free agency last summer were Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond. One was off the team mid-way through the year, and the other found himself in and out of the rotation. As for his mid-season adjustments, the Bulls were the last team to make a move in either the trade market or buyout market, eventually opting only to sign free-agent Patrick Beverley.
Now, to Karnisovas’ credit, the Beverley signing added some much-needed juice into the Bulls’ locker room. Without his veteran IQ and solid defense at the point guard position, Chicago likely doesn’t make a surge for the Play-In Tournament. But, still, the mere fact the Play-In Tournament became the goal speaks volumes about where the organization now stands.
Fortunately for Karnisovas, a job with the Bulls provides as much cushion as the inflatable surface did for my fiancee’s face. He isn’t going to walk away in any trouble with ownership. So let’s all hope he at least leaves this year with some shattered pride.
Karnisovas’ job now is to prove that he can fix the mistakes he’s made. I wouldn’t say he’s off to a particularly strong start after his end-of-season press conference, but there is a long offseason ahead. This summer will have to include making decisions on several of the players he spent significant draft capital to acquire.
DeMar DeRozan, who cost a first-rounder, is up for a contract extension that he’ll want and deserve. Nikola Vucevic is headed toward unrestricted free agency only two seasons after the Bulls sent two first-rounders and Wendell Carter Jr. to Orlando. Combine that with the looming free agency of Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu, and Javonte Green, and this offseason will play a pivotal role in deciding where Karnisovas belongs in the NBA’s front office hierarchy.
Indeed, Karnisovas is about to enter easily the most important summer of his Chicago Bulls tenure. It’s easy to be the fresh face and make some splash moves. It’s much harder to prove to fans and colleagues alike that you can clean up the mess you made. His reputation is on the line.