The Bulls held their virtual media day on Tuesday to kick off their 2020 training camp. These things are almost always uneventful displays of kooky optimism, and so the initial one for Arturas Karnisovas as a ‘lead basketball decisionmaker’ (quotes pending on March 2021 reporting that John Paxson was behind this all along) were not outside that norm. And unlike many of the past several seasons, at least there were no major injuries on the first day.
But while it’s extremely less important to evaluate the words a front office says versus their actions, in this case there’s been so little action that his words fill the information vacuum. Plus, I keep reading how Karnisovas inheriting an NBA roster and keeping it 87% intact was his stated plan.
That may be true, but in that case...I wish he was lying to us? Because if we’re to believe Karnisovas is being honest and deliberate, this isn’t good:
we were pretty happy with the roster that we had,” Karnisovas said when asked about free agency inertia. “We didn’t have a lot of (salary cap) wiggle room to work with. We added players that are versatile. We added some leadership, experience to the roster we already had and that was the mentality. And also preserving cap room for next summer and using this season to look at our roster and evaluate and see what the long term goals will be following this season.
There’s two major things wrong here:
- The roster, which Karnisovas reiterated later as “better than I thought”, is objectively really bad. It is not a good team currently, nor does it possess top-line future potential. The roster is so bad that it actually got Gar Forman fired.
- This insistence on needing to see regular season games in-person to make an evaluation. Can we get Karnisovas some video on one of his two monitors? You can edit out Neil and Stacey for his sanity. Karnisovas said similar things about Jim Boylen, though in that case thankfully he (after outside pressure???) realized he didn’t need that evaluation time after all.
Again, I can’t harp too much on what the guy is saying (there were some bad Paxson-ian vibes in this too), as he’s not going to come in and go “this team sucks, and I tried to trade a lot of them but there were no takers”. But in lieu of any activity to excite the fanbase, at least proclaim some goals and standards and say this roster wasn’t nearly good enough?
“There’s no concern,” Karnisovas said when asked if he had a principal worry.
I have a principal worry: that this roster construction is so poor that it will hinder this coveted evaluation and development time.
A new coach will undoubtedly help. Billy Donovan, by not sounding like an asshole moron, was a clear improvement over the last guy. Donovan also had a fairly typical media day appearance (all coaches want to play fast and share the ball), but spoke well on what he’s looking to do to help Lauri Markkanen. And unlike Karnisovas, he was already ready to evaluate:
What I do not want him to be from watching film is what I would say a one-dimensional, catch-and-shoot forward...
Everybody knows he can put the ball on the floor and he can shoot it. But can we try to create some situations for him where he becomes a little more difficult to guard. I think it’s two-fold. I think one, it’s him understanding how to attack size mismatches. The other part of it is the team having recognition in transition of when he’s open to find him because when you close to him, he has enough skill to go by you.
Unfortunately, part of this this flies in the face of Karnisovas’s roster construction: the glaring lack of solid and proactive point guard play.
While alluding to versatility of roster as it pertains to ballhandlers, Billy Donovan said Coby White will be primary one.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 1, 2020
While Karnisovas insists that there is so much evaluation to be had with these guys, in truth there are very few players on the team that actually require it. Coby White is definitely one, and I don’t think it’s the best method to make it a ‘sink or swim’ season with no safety net of reliable ball-distributors. There’s Patrick Williams (and, it should be said, drafting Williams along with the coaching change were positive and non-GarPax steps by Karnisovas). The rest of the guys you need to see more of to know what you have are...Markkanen and Wendell Carter. That’s the whole list.
Scheme and discipline and ‘culture’ can help, but for young bigs, better complimentary players who can get them the ball would help more.
Karnisovas looks to be outright stuck in trying to serve two masters: building a better team to help develop what you have (and being attractive in free agency), or staying affordable (apologies, flexible) and it not being a totally bad idea to have another shitty season if it meant a high lottery pick.
Perhaps Karnisovas wanted to lean into either direction more, but didn’t have ownership support? Perhaps in their discussions (also of cringeworthy note from yesterday: praising Reinsdorf and Son by name in his opening remarks) ownership intimated that from their perspective: this shortened, sure-to-be-Covid-derailed, attendance-absent season really doesn’t matter. It’s a circumestance where Karnisovas can say really outrageous stuff like “see what the long term goals will be following this season” with nobody really batting an eye.
Because if we’re to take Karnisovas at his word, it really strikes a blow against any optimism and excitement for this year. While Karnisovas has indicated he hasn’t watched enough Bulls basketball to have an evaluation, the fans have seen more than enough of this same team.