Bulls acing chemistry class as NBA trade deadline approaches

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Bulls acing chemistry class as trade deadline nears originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Zach LaVine never has tried to play front-office executive.

He appreciates when he’s asked to give his input or is kept in the loop, as he was last summer as Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley and their staff worked to transform the Chicago Bulls into a surprising conference contender. But otherwise, he focuses on his job and lets management do theirs.

“We know it’s a business,” LaVine said. “I always let them do their job and stay out of it. I try to do my job to the best of my ability on the court.”

Still, LaVine often has mentioned how the Bulls’ strong team chemistry has played a large role in their success this season. The same team chemistry that Karnišovas acknowledged he’d weigh when asked Thursday by 670 The Score hosts Mike Mulligan and David Haugh if he planned to add a player before the Feb. 10 trade deadline.

Karnisovas also told the radio hosts that he’s open to any possibilities and listening. There’s plenty of leaguewide gossip linking the Bulls to a possible pursuit of a big-name forward like the Pistons’ Jerami Grant or the Kings’ Harrison Barnes.

Asked what the Bulls’ ceiling as currently constructed is, LaVine answered like the competitor he is.

“I don’t put any cap on it,” LaVine said. “I think the main thing we try to do is build championship habits and win each game. If you don’t have that type of goal in your head, I think you’re going to be selling yourself short.”

The Bulls underwent a significant stylistic change at last season’s trade deadline. After playing small and fast much of last season with lineups featuring Thad Young at center, Karnišovas added Nikola Vučević and Daniel Theis at a busy trade deadline.

Coach Billy Donovan recounted Thursday how the Bulls had just one practice from the deadline to the end of the season because of a busy schedule, COVID-19 testing protocols and players in and out of the health and safety protocols.

“It's hard to expect a brand-new team with a number of players coming in to have that kind of chemistry. It's just impossible,” Donovan said. “But you know, Artūras is very, very detailed. I think for him, being a former player, he also looks at how important chemistry is.”

Donovan and Karnišovas talk multiple times daily. Donovan said management invites him up to big-picture meetings, including trade discussions.

“One of the things that we talked about, even for last year, you look at players and how they’re impacted and how it affects the chemistry. I thought the chemistry last year when we were at the deadline was really good,” Donovan said. “I really enjoyed Daniel quite a bit. It was my first time being around Vooch. He was great. Troy (Brown Jr.) was good and unfortunately, he got hurt.

“But I think what ended up happening was we ended up going from a team that was maybe playing with one center because we played Thad there to a team with two centers. Trying to play Vooch and Daniel together. Playing Vooch and Thad together. And then you’re trying to slide Lauri (Markkanen) down [to small forward] because he’s a really good player. So it was just a little bit of a different dynamic. You learn different things. I appreciated it.”

Like LaVine, Donovan has acknowledged how strong this current team’s chemistry is. He agreed that any potential moves that management makes between now and the trade deadline must factor that in, even if it’s an addition — as in, the player must fit into the current team and his role.

The Bulls arrived before training camp for informal, preseason workouts to begin forming that chemistry. LaVine doesn’t know if change is coming. But he does know what the Bulls currently have is significant.

“It’s been big, especially with us all coming in before training camp and working and just trying to get ahead of the 8-ball. Because it was a new team. There weren’t that many pieces here that knew each other from last year,” LaVine said. “Just had to grow that chemistry. Over these last 30-plus games, we’ve gotten a lot better with that. But we can still get better.”

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