Bulls mailbag: Evaluating Artūras Karnišovas, Lonzo Ball's return

·5 min read

Bulls mailbag: Evaluating Karnišovas, Ball's return originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Bulls open training camp next week with their first scheduled practice on Tuesday. Like most teams, plenty of questions await. Here are yours.

I know that I'm in the minority, but I feel that AKME have done a very poor job constructing this Bulls roster. They traded away valuable assets (three future first-round picks and Wendell Carter Jr.) to assemble a team that is neither good enough to compete for a championship or bad enough to tank for a top draft pick. In addition, two of their best players (Nikola Vučević and DeMar DeRozan) are both exiting their primes, while teams like the Hawks and Cavs traded similar assets to what the Bulls did to acquire young All-Stars in Dejounte Murray and Donovan Mitchell, respectively. Unless there was an edict from ownership to turn the Bulls into a playoff team immediately, AKME have put the Bulls in NBA purgatory with no clear exit and, even worse, traded future assets to do so. What's your opinion on the job they have done thus far? — Dan B.

Nothing like starting off the first mailbag edition of the 2022-23 season with a doozy. There’s plenty to unpack here.

Let’s start by answering your question directly. My opinion is management has made the franchise relevant again in short order.

Now, let’s get into the nuance.

While I share some of your skepticism of the ceiling for this core, which I’ll explore in a bit, both the past and future are instructive to fully analyze management’s job. When the franchise hired Artūras Karnišovas and Marc Eversley, the rebuild had stalled, coach Jim Boylen’s reign had produced plenty of raised eyebrows and attendance had dropped. Within two years, management built a roster that led the Eastern Conference, sold out the United Center and helped restore the franchise’s reputation around the league.

While the future is speculative, it’s hard to fully analyze this regime’s body of work without knowing what’s next. After all, nobody envisioned management trading for Nikola Vučević or DeMar DeRozan (sign-and-trade). So I wouldn’t place the Bulls in NBA purgatory yet. Do they flip Vučević for an unforeseen trade that betters them at the deadline? Do they re-sign DeRozan and continue to build through the draft?

I’d also probably push back a little on the theory that DeRozan is exiting his prime. He just authored his best season. And while an encore performance may be unlikely, he possesses the type of game that, to me, will age well. He’s an efficient scorer and consistently delivers in crunch time.

All that said, I agree that, as currently constructed, the Bulls aren’t good enough to win a championship or bad enough to secure a high lottery pick. And the Vučević trade, widely praised at the time, could age poorly. Particularly if Vučević and the Bulls don’t agree to a contract extension past this season.

I’ve consistently said: I’m less hung up on what Wendell Carter Jr. is doing now in Orlando as I’m of the belief that he was mentally fried here. He needed a fresh start. And there’s no guarantee, of course, that the Bulls would’ve drafted Franz Wagner if they had kept that first-round pick. But Wagner is obviously a very promising young player.

The DeRozan acquisition, though a significant financial outlay, has been strong. Lonzo Ball is a wonderful fit, although his health obviously is a concern. Did the Pelicans, who let Ball walk in restricted free agency, know something the Bulls didn’t? The jury remains out on Patrick Williams. Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso are hits.

This ownership group has hired three lead basketball executives in 37 years. Karnišovas stands to be here awhile. Your question is on the job he has done thus far, which, to me, has been to get the franchise on an upward trajectory. Let’s see what happens next.

When do you think Lonzo Ball will make his season debut? — Paul S.

I learned long ago not to get into the injury prediction business. The Derrick Rose saga reinforced that, times infinity. I’ll just say this: I’m skeptical this return will be smooth, given that Ball hasn’t played since he blew past the last organizational timeline of return-to-play in six to eight weeks.

And remember: This four-to-six timeline is merely for a re-evaluation. Given that Ball hasn’t played since January, he will need time to rehabilitate and get into game condition. How long that takes, I have no clue.

What I do know is injuries stink and Ball is a joyful person to watch play basketball. He makes winning plays, doesn’t care about individual statistics and makes his teammates better. The United Center is a better place when he’s out there doing his thing.

Who do you think starts at point guard on Oct. 19 vs. Miami? — Rich B.

This is going to be one of my first questions to coach Billy Donovan. I’m not sure he will answer it right away; he may want to experiment with some rotations during training camp. But you could make a case for any of Caruso, Dosunmu or Goran Dragić to start. Only the latter is a true point guard. But do the Bulls want to preserve him and not overplay him? I could see a scenario in which Dragić starts and Caruso finishes. But you really have three options here.

The Bulls possess plenty of backcourt depth. But nobody duplicates what Ball brings.

What do you expect of Dalen Terry this season? — @OrangeJordan

Not much. But I said the same about Dosunmu last season and... Oops.

This, to me, is a development year for Terry, whose athleticism and energy could get him some spot, situational minutes. He certainly appears to be a willing defender. But if Summer League is any indication, he needs to improve his handle and his shooting to make a consistent impact. You can see his court vision and tools, though. He’s an upside pick to me.

Thanks for all your questions. We’ll be doing this feature throughout the regular season.

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