Despite the season being derailed, the search for a lead executive to usher in winning basketball is the best news Chicago Bulls’ fans have heard in months.
Just four days ago, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news that the Chicago Bulls were formally declaring their search for a new president of basketball operations. Whoever lands the job will have “full authority on basketball decisions”. For a market as large as Chicago and a team as historic as the Bulls, this opening is sure to hold a lot of merit to qualified candidates.
This turn of events means that duo of “GarPax” — incumbent top executive John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman — will be demoted or released from their current positions. This decision I’m sure will ring out as music to the ears of many Bulls faithful.
Bringing in new blood signals a much-anticipated change in attitude inside the Bulls’ organization that can hopefully bring the team back to relevance. When Wojnarowski first broke the news, he included four names as preliminary targets for the Bulls. Bobby Webster, Adam Simon, and Chad Buchanan were all either withheld from interviewing for Chicago or opted to remain in their current roles.
This left current Denver Nuggets’ general manager Arturas Karnisovas on the table. While Utah’s Justin Zanik has joined in to make this a two-horse race, I firmly believe Karnisovas is the man for the job.
Oddly enough, the careers of Karnisovas and Zanik have intertwined across the years. Both earned their first gig as an assistant general manager back in 2013 and would go on to compete for the Milwaukee Bucks’ general manager position in 2017. Now, the pair have wound up in a similar situation by searching for promotion in Chicago.
Karnisovas conveyed his decade of experience of working in the NBA’s front office and as a scout for the Houston Rockets to find early success in Denver. The Nuggets would promote Karnisovas in 2017 to the general manager position where he would execute a series of moves that had a profound impact on the franchise.
To kick things off, Karnisovas inked Paul Millsap to a multi-year deal to give Nikola Jokic a strong frontcourt partner. While this may have seemed an overpay in retrospect, Millsap was coming off the heels of four consecutive All-Star appearances (and an All-Defensive Team selection) and was a huge splash for a market that struggles to attract talent. In fact, signing a player like Millsap would easily be one of the biggest free acquisitions in Chicago’s franchise history.
Karnisovas has also proven to be an excellent evaluator of talent by drafting both Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol at much lower spots than their initial projections and identifying Monte Morris and Torrey Craig as difference-makers before signing the pair to two-way contracts. After Chicago infamously cut Spencer Dinwiddie, having someone with this savvy skill set is crucial to the team’s long-term success.
Zanik, on the other hand, does not share the same successful track record with Karnisovas. For all his flaws, Gar Forman is actually quite gifted as a scout. Zanik however, has struggled to find value with his first-round picks, considering Dante Exum and Trey Lyles are some of the bigger draft flops in recent memory. That Mike Conley trade also appeared to be aging like milk prior to the season’s abrupt end.
While it’s true Zanik possesses deep connections to the Bulls’ front office via his relationship with Mark Bartelstein — premiere NBA agent and founder of Chicago-based agency Priority Sports — GarPax’s regime should have proven that running a ‘boy’s club’ in the front office is not a recipe for success. This perhaps may be Karnisovas’ biggest obstacle to cross en route to landing the job.
For that reason, Karnisovas appears to be the man for the job. If all goes well, Karnisovas could ignite a revival similar to Theo Epstein with the Cubs or Ryan Pace with the Bears. With his interview scheduled in the coming days, hopefully the Reinsdorf family can make the right decision and help Chicago restore its basketball prestige.