Why the Bulls use the pick in the 2022 NBA Draft makes sense originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
In November 2020, seven months after first landing a chief basketball operations job, Artūras Karnišovas selected the rookie from Florida State patrick williams with the fourth overall pick in the NBA draft.
At the time, the Chicago Bulls The executive vice-president’s decision was seen as a positive bet, recruiting a young physical specimen with the tools to become a two-way force on the wing. It was also part of the perception of a new executive laying the groundwork for his vision through the draft, much like his former Denver Nuggets franchise had.
Four months later, Karnišovas brushed aside that perception. In a move that seemingly pushed the Bulls into “win now” mode, he sent a young center he inherited to Wendell Carter Jr., a big expiring contract to Otto Porter Jr. and two first-round picks to the Orlando Magic for two-time All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu.
Aminu didn’t last long, becoming a salary filler five months later in the sign-and-trade deal that landed DeMar DeRozan and cost the Bulls another first-round pick — plus two second-rounders for good measure.
If former longtime Bulls managers Jerry Krause and John Paxson treated first-round picks like gold, Karnišovas treated them like cryptocurrency – tradable commodities to aggressively reshuffle a roster which produced the franchise’s first playoff appearance in five years last season.
Which brings us to Thursday night.
The Bulls own the 18th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. The conventional play would be to use the pick on a cost-controlled rookie-scale contract to find a rotation player — or even a potential starter — and begin to replenish young talent on a roster that, in Vučević and DeRozan, employ two starters north of 30.
And yet, little about how Karnišovas and his team built the Bulls has been conventional.
That’s why the Bulls land in seemingly daily trade rumors, the biggest of which centers around three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. League sources have indicated that, at least at the time of this writing, the rumors are overblown.
Negotiating for Gobert would defeat Karnišovas not once but twice indicating his desire to seek continuity for the kernel he assembled. The Bulls led the Eastern Conference for most of January and into February 25 before injuries pushed role players into bigger roles, changed the team’s defensive identity and made them fall to the sixth seed.
At the end of April, Karnišovas really wanted to see a healthy iteration of his vision grow together, while obviously working to improve the team’s bench, shooting and rim protection via salary cap exceptions in free agency or other avenues. In his end-of-season media availability, Karnišovas acknowledged the unexpected opportunities that can present themselves in any calendar year in the NBA.
“Hopefully we can keep the core together and work around the margins,” Karnišovas said then. “But, again, we’ve always been ready for what comes our way.”
Landing Gobert from the Utah Jazz would come at a high price and, coupled with the desire to retain Zach LaVine on a max contract, push the Bulls into a luxury tax country.
It’s a safe bet that Karnišovas keeps his core and uses the pick. Or that if a trade is made, maybe it’s a package deal involving Coby White to get into the repechage.
With so much tentative capital spent landing Vučević and DeRozan, the importance of adding contributors on rookie-scale contracts is legitimate. The Bulls may not be one player away from winning the Eastern Conference.
Karnišovas was asked in April if his capital spending plans make keeping and using this pick even more important.
“It depends on who gets there, whether you like it or not,” Karnišovas said then. “I think there will be players that we like. There are different options if there is a player that we like. We will look at everything.
“Obviously, a lot of capital went into this team. There have been a ton of great things and positive things this year. In order to bring in players, that’s what you have to do. But we will be flexible. As you described, the front office is quite aggressive.
Indeed, little about Karnišovas’ tenure has been certain. Stay tuned. But this is one time when it looks like Karnišovas will take the more conventional route.