Arturas Karnisovas doesn't settle for mediocrity, he strives for it
AK keeps telling us he doesn't know what he's doing, we should finally start listening
In what is still a fresh tradition after seeing the last executive crew stick around for nearly two decades, we were treated another edition of the sporadic sigh-fest that is an Arturas Karnisovas media availability.
It was treated in typically rushed fashion, less than 12 hours after the team’s season was killed in Miami, and coming in at under 30 minutes in duration. This would be less offensive if AK did this more than four times a calendar year.
You could argue there isn’t much to gain in hearing Karnisovas speak, since his actions matter more plus he offers so little with such horrible presentation skills. That’s fairly true, though what we can’t expect in terms of confidence-building quotes we can now expect the other way: these press conferences offer opportunity for fans to gain more and more evidence that the guy running the basketball team is in over his head.
We’ll have to see if Karnisovas does a media hit somewhere, that’s where we got the real head-scratching stuff after the trade deadline. In the meantime, we have only this video as the entire postmortem.
I’m here to tell you that it was another disaster.
The entire presser started with some obligatory “we’re not satisfied” rhetoric, and AK did say ultimately the season was a failure. Nearly the entire rest of it was praising the team’s performance, every mentioned player on the roster, and his own job performance. There was reference to “looking at everything” and “exploring all options”, but anything close to an expression of direction was indicative of running this thing back again, as every impending free agent was a player he wants to remain on the team for a long time.
We shouldn’t be surprised. AK expressed similar sentiment at the do-nothing trade deadline when his team was even more severely underperforming. In spite of record, he was still encouraged by how “competitive” they were, especially in games against the better teams in the league.
That was incredulous even then, so it does follow his own logical standard that after a season where they played better after the deadline (though still finished in 10th place in the conference with a sub-.500 record) Karnisovas was even more encouraged. He frequently referenced “14-9 record after the break” (yes, he’s counting those last two games as legit victories), stated how “proud” he was overall that his group became a “tough out”.
This is all obviously very discouraging even as we become numb to the routine of it. I am not sure what’s worse:
that Karnisovas merely aims to be “a competitive ‘tough out’ against good teams”, or
that he considers his team’s performance this season, even in the PatBev era, as satisfactory for that criteria
One big headline quote from Karnisovas here was that he was not considering a rebuild. That his mindset, starting with the Vucevic trade, was all about improvement and winning, and that has been a consistent ethos from this era of Bulls basketball. It was unspoken, but right next to him was Billy Donovan, who is also someone you sign (and give a secret extension to) if you’re not interested in stepping back.
I think that part of this Karnisovas regime actually tracks. Trying to win, ASAP, has been his stated goal. And the moves he has made (much fewer in the past 3 transaction periods, but still) has been with that in mind. And I am for that as a goal! Rebuilds suck, and shouldn’t be required of your six-time world champion from big-market Chicago.
However, that consistency in message only further exposes how bad he is at executing.
AK literally copped to his own inadequacy regarding this past trade deadline, saying that only he knew what was available, and nothing was there to improve the team. He didn’t mention the nearly-total punt of free agency the summer prior.
And worse, he declared victory in the face of what was actually total failure (emphasis mine):
we chose the lane which was to stay with the same group. That came out post All-Star the right decision. I don’t know if we could have made any changes that could have done better [than their post-deadline record]
So there you have it: in his mind, this is going well and according to plan. Even when offered a relatively soft question of what he has learned on the job, Karnisovas didn’t admit any mistakes, instead said he learned to be more patient. I think patience has long past reached any logical limit.
In his own lamentation over this press conference, Will Gottlieb at CHGO prefaced his concerns with the inherent knowledge that “Karnisovas and his staff are extremely smart”. After the trade deadline, KC Johnson of the team’s media partner said something very similar.
…you sure about that? At a certain point (for me, it was after the deadline), after this much evidence of moves and talking about them, we have to stop giving AK and his totally invisible staff the benefit of the doubt.
I don’t want to call the man objectively dumb. But whenever he assesses his team, AK talks like someone…let’s keep it impersonal…somone, well, easily deluded by flimsy evidence, and naïve to the degree of his team’s problems.
I don’t doubt Karnisovas knows the game of basketball. But I find a fundamental gap in his understanding of NBA success: Karnisovas conflates consistency with ability.
To him, his Bulls are not average, they’re actually good. Just not good enough for enough of the time, or at the right times.
Thus, his Chicago Bulls with a 40-42 record and a tenth place finish were sneakily good because they had closer losses against good teams. Yes, that was better than the 2021-22 season. But that season was the outlier. I’m not going to fact check him here, but logically seeing an average team winning some games and losing others is typical. Heck, even the worse teams have good wins over the course of a season. Because it’s the NBA regular season! There’s opponent factors like injuries, rest, the grind, taking opponents lightly (something Bulls players said they were certainly guilty of). These games do provide evidence, but the type that requires a healthy dose of skepticism. This is even more the case in the post-deadline part of the season, and that is the stretch of games AK is taking even more stock in!
AK also let it be known that his Bulls were sneakily good because they lost a lot of close games. In a moment truly cringeworthy, when followed up with a question of why he thinks his team’s clutch record was so poor when it was so good the season prior:
“I don’t know why it shifted that way”
Yeesh. AK could’ve fairly-correctly framed ‘clutch’ as kind of a fluky metric that you shouldn’t put too much stock in for a single year. Billy Donovan was warning everyone preseason about this, where that last season’s clutch record may have exaggerated the Bulls success last season. Even that answer wouldn’t be 100% satisfactory, because there are real factors in winning time that the better teams have, not to mention the better teams don’t put themselves in as many clutch situations in the first place. But for AK to buy so much into ‘clutch’, yet not know how to get better at it, is truly a “double-loss” of an answer.
To AK, his team becoming more consistent will be achieved by…actually, AK didn’t know how this was going to happen, just that it was something that needed to improve.
He certainly didn’t offer the correct causation that his team would get more consistent because he’d get better players. Instead, AK theory has been laid out: the same players, through the power of continuity, will get better by becoming more consistent.
This pretty backwards mission statement was already used last offseason, proven wrong this year, and then he just…said it again.
This nebulous and subjective rationalizing was also used more specifically after a question about 3-point shooting. After not adding shooting (or anything), AK said post-deadline that while the volume was low, they made a great percentage (no), and they would “like to” improve that while not having any change in talent or scheme.
This time, AK did give up that battle and admitted they don’t attempt enough threes. But he still tried to minimize the issue by grouping it with other team problems to make shooting among “a lot of things we’re looking at”. And while AK actually admitted that getting new, better-shooting players would help, it’s just “one thing”, and you know…do we actually need to acquire shooting by getting better shooters?
We [already] have a lot of good shooters, that are developing…we created a lot of shots at times they turned them down…part of it is confidence as well
The Non Taxpayer Mid Level Exception is $11.3M, but hoping for newfound confidence doesn’t cost you anything.
Overall in listening to this I actually found fewer truly-objectionable single quotes than I did at the deadline. Maybe because this was just more of the same, and it’s less the individual admissions of fireable offenses (he confirmed he did not negotiate with Vucevic this season before Vuc hits unrestricted free agency), but more the totality of what AK says about how he sees this league.
In short: AK doesn’t know how to measure success, and then worse his team fails at what he can’t even define.
This of how much of the fan discourse surrounding this PatBev era, which started at the team’s low-water mark record-wise and high-water mark embarrassment-wise, was underlying consternation over the team getting too good. And a better record wasn’t just counterproductive in the likelihood of keeping their first round draft pick, but it would “trick” the front office. A time of the season that the vast majority of fans, observers, and just basketball-knowers dismissed as too “little, too late” would instead be seen by Arturas Karnisovas as validation.
And guess what, we were right to be worried! Because even after missing the playoffs, this press conference was a goddamned 10th place victory lap.
He doesn’t deserve the chance to try and get out of this mess. If you’re thinking so little of an executive to where you concern troll his ability to interpret evidence, it means you think the guy should be fired already.
Not to generalize too much, but I think for the most part the fanbase isn’t quite at that point, yet. Certainly a majority of the beat reporters assembled at this press conference aren’t at that point yet. Though at least one of them, Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic, is telling everyone the emperor has no clothes.
Chicago Bulls media were bewildered when the team’s public relations department insisted on Billy Donovan joining Artūras Karnišovas for his end-of-season interview Saturday afternoon….As if Donovan hadn’t taken enough bullets for his boss this season.
every chance he gets — and there are purposefully few — Karnišovas fails to convey a cogent blueprint for what exactly he’s doing with the Bulls.
What makes this all worse is that AK has proved incapable, and that job already seems impossibly difficult. Much of it through his own doing, to where circumstances like a broke owner(‘s son) and the injury to Lonzo Ball makes this situation totally dire.
One way out (and my preference) would be to employ an unused inherent asset, spending power, to try and spend their way out from past mistakes. But ownership has offered they’ll pay the tax if the team is a contender, something so unlikely - again, even harder with $20M tied up with Lonzo - that it borders on axiomatic.
(Karnisovas dismissively declined to comment when asked about looking to get out from Lonzo’s contract. He also offered “no regrets” for his failure to compensate for Lonzo’s absence, saying he was just going off the evidence at the time and thought Lonzo was coming back. No follow up question of his belief in the Easter Bunny.)
Another way out of this hole is, yes, taking a step back and fully rebuilding. I think merely just trading DeRozan to provide more opportunities for Patrick Williams would tank the team. But as AK stated, they are not even thinking of this.
So then we get this ‘path’ because the only alternative. The execution is already botched relative to what could’ve been done this past deadline, and bringing all these heavily-praised players back puts them over the luxury tax. So instead of admitting that, there was attempt to dress up outright mediocrity as success, spin competitive regular season losses and a bad clutch record as evidence you’re closer than others think, and set that as the goal.
After the 2020-21 season, when they failed to make even the play-in after trading so much for Vucevic midseason, Karnisovas boldly said “we will not settle for mediocrity here”. After two seasons of virtually the same roster, he apparently has reconsidered.
It should be clear by now that there should be zero faith that Karnisovas even knows what to do, let alone has the ability to do it.
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Let's zoom out: The Bulls went all in, and traded four first round picks, at least three of which are likely to be top-12 picks, for the 10th best team in a 15 team conference and a gentleman's sweep against the Bucks. It is honestly hard to hamstring a franchise's future any worse than that.
I'm preaching to the choir here but every write-up of this Bulls season that doesn't include this basic context is misleading its readers. [To be clear: I'm referring to *other* write-ups elsewhere, not this one.]
AK and Tim Connelly should give 10% of their salaries to Nikola Jokic for the rest of their careers. They picked him and then went on to be terrible with other teams. I wonder if they're actually sleeper agents still on the Denver payroll to destroy other teams from the inside by giving away all of their draft picks.