Karnisovas presents a challenging plan for Bulls’ improvement

Arturas Karnisovas may have assigned himself an impossible task Saturday.

Speaking to reporters the day after Bulls season ended with a play-in loss at Miami, the team's vice president of basketball operations placed blame on himself for the 39-43 record and vowed to aggressively make any changes necessary.

Some of these problems will be difficult, if not impossible, to fix. Between Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball and Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls have $84 million in salary committed to players with minuscule trade value.

Karnisovas said the Bulls are interested in bringing back free agent DeMar DeRozan, which sounds like a wise move. Patrick Williams, a player the Bulls need to take a large step forward, is a restricted free agent.

But what about the NBA's luxury tax, which the Bulls have paid very infrequently?

“My approach looking at the luxury tax is if you can prove your team is going to be in the top four, you go in the luxury tax,” Karnisovas said. “It just makes no sense to be on the fringe and be in the play-in if you're going to be in the luxury tax.

“So as long as I can put a team together that can be competing in top four, that's when you start looking at retaining guys and going into the luxury tax. That would be my approach.”

Fair enough, but how do the Bulls re-sign DeRozan and Williams, figure something out with LaVine, and either avoid the luxury tax or guarantee a top-four finish in the East? That may be a stumper, but Karnisovas has all summer to figure it out.

Chicago Bulls' Patrick Williams shoots during an NBA basketball game against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast) AP

If the Bulls re-sign DeRozan for $25 million and Williams for $10 million, with no other roster moves, they'd be about $10 million into the luxury tax. Guard Jevon Carter, a free-agent addition from last summer, barely played this season but is under contract for $6.5 million next year, which obviously doesn't help a luxury-tax avoidance plan.

No player is untradeable, but unloading a terrible contract in the NBA usually means taking an equally awful salary in return.

Ball hasn't played in 2½ seasons, so his status for next season remains a mystery. But Karnisovas said the point guard is progressing well after a third surgery on his left knee and has had no setbacks.

LaVine shut his season down on Jan. 18 with surgery on his foot, so the two-time all-star will probably need to prove he's healthy before another team even thinks about taking on the $138 million left on his contract over the next three years.

“I'm not here to stay in the middle,” Karnisovas said. “The formula we came up with three years ago, I thought it was working until a couple injuries. We obviously cannot roll the same team again and expect different results. Even with the injuries we suffered this year, I think we need to change things.”

One aspect Karnisovas does not plan to change is the head coach. He offered praise for Billy Donovan, who is now 156-162 in four seasons with the Bulls.

“He's obviously a great leader, a great coach and I've got to do a better job to help him,” Karnisovas said of Donovan. “We put an emphasis on cohesion this year. In totality it didn't work and I have to find these answers.

“I've got to do my job better. This is my responsibility. Jerry and Michael (Reinsdorf) have been really supportive. Obviously, their expectation is better results. That's why diving into this off-season, I put an emphasis on turning things around.”

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball sits on the bench during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles, Saturday, March 9, 2024. Coach Billy Donovan said Ball has started sprinting and cutting during on-court drills in controlled, noncontact situations. Ball has not played since January 2022 because of three procedures on his left knee. (AP Photo/Eric Thayer) AP
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