Bulls Rumors

Karnisovas, Donovan Appear To Be Safe In Chicago

Despite the Bulls‘ miserable start, president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas and head coach Billy Donovan don’t seem to be in danger of getting fired, meaning any changes to turn the season around will have to focus on the roster, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

Karnisovas “has been given the green light to try to fix the current mess,” according to Johnson, who notes that ownership is typically slow to make changes to its front office. Karnisovas received an extension in the spring, which indicates the organization still has confidence in him.

Donovan is “liked and respected by both ownership and management,” Johnson adds, plus he still has multiple years remaining on his contract extension. Johnson points out that the Reinsdorfs don’t like to pay fired coaches, so Donovan isn’t likely to be dismissed, although changes may be made to his coaching staff.

Chicago dropped to 5-13 with Sunday’s loss at Brooklyn, which marked its fourth straight defeat and the seventh in its last eight games. The players understand that they’re underperforming, according to Johnson, and they know that a quick turnaround is the only way to prevent a roster shakeup.

“Rumors come with the territory,” Nikola Vucevic said. “If you’re playing well, everything is great. Everybody is talking positive about you. If you’re losing, you get criticized and rumors start. We have to deal with that. The only way to deal with it is for us to play better. That’s the only way for that to stop.”

Johnson suggests the Bulls’ core problem may be a flawed roster built around Vucevic, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. He points out that those three players have been on the court together for 370 minutes so far this season and they have a net rating of minus-13.9.

Reports earlier this month indicated that LaVine and the organization are both open to finding a deal to send him elsewhere. However, the team has placed a high asking price on the 28-year-old guard and his pricey salary and injury history are limiting interest around the league.

DeRozan, who has an expiring $28.6MM contract and reportedly hasn’t made much progress in extension talks, is also considered to be a trade candidate, along with Alex Caruso, a defensive standout with a team-friendly deal. Most of the free agents who signed contracts this summer will become eligible to be traded on December 15, so that’s when the Bulls might become active if their record hasn’t improved.

The team’s stars are hoping that won’t happen, Johnson adds, but they know the only way to keep the current roster together is to start winning.

“We all get along,” LaVine said. “Nobody wants to be 5-13 or lose multiple games in a row. It doesn’t feel good. It didn’t feel like we’d be at this point now. But that’s our reality. So we have to figure out how to get out of that hole. Try to get a win. That’s all we try to worry about.”

Julian Phillips Getting Brief Chances To Play

  • Bulls coach Billy Donovan turned to rookie forward Julian Phillips to try to spark the team in Friday’s loss at Toronto, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. The second-round pick has appeared in seven games so far, mostly in short bursts, giving him a chance to show off his 43-inch vertical leap along with his other skills. “It was fun for me to get out there with the guys. Those are big games for me early in my career,” Phillips said. “It’s definitely still a moment for me when I go in. But I wouldn’t so much say I’m nervous. It’s more of an excitement. I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team.”

In-Season Tournament Updates: Pacers Clinch Top-Two Seed, Six Teams Eliminated

The Nuggets, Bulls, Raptors, Thunder, Clippers and Mavericks were all eliminated from the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament in the group stage following Friday’s game results, marking 12 total teams out of contention.

The Pacers and Lakers remain the only two teams to clinch spots in the quarterfinals so far, with six more spots up for grabs. The final day of group stage play is Tuesday, Nov. 28 and the quarterfinals will take place on Dec. 4 and 5.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps took a look at all the action from Friday, which featured numerous upsets that set the stage for some interesting scenarios to play out. By beating Detroit on Friday, Indiana won East Group A and guaranteed a top-two seed in the Eastern Conference. The BucksHeat game on Tuesday dictates who earns the top overall seed in the East. If the Bucks win, Milwaukee is the conference’s top seed, but if Miami wins, it will be the Pacers. A Miami loss eliminates the Heat.

If the Heat and Knicks win, there will be a three-way tiebreaker between Miami, Milwaukee and New York that is determined by point differential. In that scenario, the Heat would have to beat the Bucks by eight more points than the Knicks beat the Hornets on Tuesday in order to have a chance.

Orlando defeated Boston on Friday, meaning the Magic‘s chances of winning East Group C are bolstered. With the Raptors and Bulls eliminated, the Celtics, Magic and Nets are competing for that group.

The Suns‘ win over Memphis in their final group stage game helped them take steps toward securing a wild-card spot, finishing their games at 3-1 with a plus-34 point differential. The Lakers play in West Group A alongside the Suns and, given the wild card team plays the top seed, it’s likely they’ll face off against each other in the quarterfinals. The only way the Lakers don’t earn the West’s top seed is if the Kings beat the Warriors on Tuesday by 46 or more points.

West Group B got shaken up with the Rockets upsetting and eliminating the Nuggets on Friday, and the Pelicans are now the runaway favorite to win the group, according to Bontemps. The Pelicans beat the Clippers, eliminating them, and improving to 3-1. The Pelicans are not in front of the Suns for the wild card spot and will need the Rockets to lose in order to clinch the group.

The Kings are looking like a top contender for the tournament title, sitting at 3-0 and plus-29. If the Kings beat the Warriors on Tuesday, they advance. If both Sacramento and Minnesota lose, the Warriors win the group. If both Golden State and Minnesota win, it sets up a three-way tie to be decided by point differential. The Warriors are plus-5 and the Timberwolves are minus-3.

Any team that makes the quarterfinals clinches per-player bonuses worth at least $50K. The value of those bonuses would increase to $100K if they advance to the semifinals, $200K if they make the final, and $500K if they win the entire tournament.

The full in-season tournament standings can be found here.

Central Notes: Williams, Caruso, Middleton, Duren

Bulls forward Patrick Williams made a cameo appearance in Chicago’s starting lineup on Wednesday while Zach LaVine dealt with foot soreness, but returned to the bench on Friday when LaVine returned to play. Williams had 10 points (33.0% shooting) in 37 minutes as a starter on Wednesday but followed that up with 12 points (50.0% shooting) in 22 minutes off the bench on Friday.

That’s been indicative of his season as a whole, according to NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson, who writes that Williams has looked better in fewer minutes off the bench than in an extended role in the starting lineup. Williams agreed he’s been more comfortable running with the reserves this year.

100 percent. That’s just the natural way of basketball and the way this team is,” Williams said. “You have three All-Stars. They need the ball. We need them to have the ball in order for us to win. I think that limits the opportunities for anybody else in that first unit.

Johnson writes that Williams isn’t fazed by his move to the second unit.

Confidence is not a problem for me,” Williams said. “I know who I am. I know what I can do. I know what I bring to the table. I’m 100 percent confident in what I can do at both ends.

Johnson writes that it would still ultimately be better for the long-term health of the franchise if Williams is able to reclaim his starting spot considering he was the No. 4 overall pick in 2020. He’s also aware of management’s similar feelings on the matter, who placed an emphasis on how important this season was for Williams’ growth.

It’s for sure a good thing. I’ve talked to them about it. This is my fourth year in the NBA, third year playing. It’s that time. I know I can. I know I will. It’s a matter of turning what’s said and what’s felt into what’s actually happening on the court,” Williams said. “That’s the bridge we’re trying to build now.

We have more from the Central Division:

  • After teammate Coby White accidentally stepped on his foot, Alex Caruso missed the final 19 minutes of the Bulls‘ Friday loss to the Raptors, according to Johnson in a separate story. Caruso recently sat out two games with a sprained left toe and White stepped on the same foot, according to Johnson. “It was pretty painful. It was probably the right decision,” Caruso said of not going back into the game. “There was probably only more negative that could’ve happened than positive throwing me back out there with the athletes and the pace of the game and the physicality of it.
  • Bucks wing Khris Middleton exited Friday’s contest against the Wizards with left Achilles tightness. However, he didn’t have to undergo any imaging on the Achilles, according to The Athletic’s Eric Nehm (Twitter link), and it doesn’t sound like the injury is too serious. “I think he had some tightness in his left Achilles and so just took him out for precautionary measures,” head coach Adrian Griffin said. “And then we’ll just evaluate him tomorrow.” Middleton has missed three games this season and is averaging 11.6 points in 19.8 minutes per game.
  • Pistons center Jalen Duren returned to action on Friday after missing four straight games due to a lingering sprain in his right ankle. Mike Curtis of The Detroit News (subscriber link) analyzed what Duren brings to the table, asserting that Detroit is a different team with him, as he provides a dominant lob threat and defensive anchor for the team. However, Duren has been limited to just nine games this season. The Pistons brought him off the bench on Friday and it appeared they were going to ramp up his return to play, but he wound up playing 29 minutes.

Bulls’ DeRozan “Beyond Frustrated” After Latest Loss

Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan received his second technical foul and was ejected with one second remaining in Friday’s loss at Toronto after having choice words with the Raptors’ bench.

As K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago writes, DeRozan was upset that Raptors forward Pascal Siakam attempted a three-pointer with three seconds remaining while Toronto was up 12 points and could have let the clock run out.

Raptors coach Darko Rajakovic told Bulls coach Billy Donovan after the game that they were focused on the point differential (for tiebreakers) during the in-season tournament contest, but Toronto had already been eliminated from the tournament when Orlando defeated Boston earlier in the day.

I don’t care about no in-season tournament points, none of that. Just respect for the game,” DeRozan said. “If the roles was flip-flopped and I had the ball, hold it. It is what it is.”

I mean, I knew that (they were eliminated),” DeRozan continued. “But I didn’t care about that either. Just everybody was yelling at him, ‘Score, score, score.’ Take the win. Get out of here. Like I said, if roles were reversed, needing in-season tournament points or not, just for the respect I have for my opponents, I hold the ball. Especially if there’s no shot clock. That’s just me.”

Of course, the bigger concern for the Bulls is the fact that they’re now 5-12, having lost three straight and six of their past seven games. According to Johnson, DeRozan was exasperated by the latest loss — he ripped a towel during a timeout and tore off his jersey after the ejection.

I can’t fake it. I’m beyond frustrated. And I think it’s rightfully so as a competitor,” DeRozan said. “Everybody in this locker room is frustrated. It’s from a good place of being a competitor and wanting to figure it out that badly. Put a couple wins together. I really truly believe that can shift everything for us.

… We gotta challenge ourselves. We can’t have those spiritual talks. We gotta challenge each other to leave it all the way out there. That’s a good thing to be challenged. Ask something of yourself more than you ever have at this point, myself included. That’s where we’re at.”

As we previously noted, things won’t get any easier for Chicago in the near future. The team has a really tough schedule over the next few weeks, so the Bulls will have to play much better to have a shot at turning their season around.

Heat Not Pursuing Zach LaVine

The Heat aren’t actively pursuing a trade for Bulls guard Zach LaVine, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald, who says he’d be surprised if that stance changes. Miami was previously cited as a destination LaVine would have interest in.

As Jackson explains, the Heat’s proximity to the tax aprons going forward is an important factor in their decision not to go after LaVine. Moving Tyler Herro as the centerpiece in a LaVine trade would significantly increase the team’s salary in future seasons, since Herro is owed $120MM over the next four years, while LaVine will make $178MM.

Herro is also five years younger than LaVine and is still improving as a scorer, so the Heat don’t particularly want to give him up in a deal for the Bulls guard, Jackson notes. Using Kyle Lowry‘s expiring contract and other pieces in an offer for LaVine would be another option, but that would create even higher tax penalties and more financial restrictions and in future seasons, and LaVine and Herro have overlapping skill sets.

Essentially, as Jackson writes, it sounds like the Heat don’t view LaVine as the sort of player who is worth surrendering key trade assets and sacrificing future flexibility for. The Bulls, on the other hand, have reportedly set a high asking price for the two-time All-Star, so the two teams are unlikely to agree on his value.

The Heat might have interest in guard Alex Caruso if Chicago makes him available, Jackson says, but he’s not sure the team would even part with a first-round pick for the defensive stalwart. If that’s the case, Miami almost certainly wouldn’t be the highest bidder for Caruso, who is expected to generate widespread interest.

Bulls Notes: Slow Starts, LaVine, DeRozan, Caruso

Poor play in first quarters has been a consistent theme for the Bulls early on in 2023/24 and Wednesday’s loss in Oklahoma City was no different, writes Annie Costabile of The Chicago Sun-Times. The Bulls trailed the Thunder by 12 after the first period, scoring just 14 points on 4-of-23 shooting, and were down 18 at one point in the second frame.

Chicago managed to claw its way back into the game, but ultimately lost 116-102. The Bulls have now dropped five of six and currently hold a 5-11 record — certainly not what the front office was hoping when it decided to bring back most of the same group.

We have not been consistent enough, quite honestly,” head coach Billy Donovan said.

The upcoming schedule won’t make things any easier. OKC was the first stop on a four-game road trip, with upcoming games in Toronto, Brooklyn and Boston. The Bulls will also play New Orleans, Milwaukee (twice), Denver, Miami (twice) and Philadelphia over the next 10 games, with four of those contests coming on the road — things could get very ugly in the near future unless they manage to right the ship.

Here’s more on the Bulls:

  • Zach LaVine missed a game for the first time this season on Wednesday due to a right mid-foot sprain, Costible adds in the same story. LaVine, who was initially listed as probable, said he’s been dealing with the injury since Saturday’s victory over the Heat. “I cut my tape off at halftime because it was bugging me to play through it,” LaVine said. “Felt the same way the next game. Two [games] in a row, the same thing. You don’t want to get to that third [game].” The two-time All-Star is considered day-to-day.
  • Several players on Chicago’s roster, including LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams, have been involved in trade rumors this fall. DeRozan, who previously said the rumors wouldn’t impact the locker room, is maintaining a level head amid the outside noise, Costible writes for The Sun-Times. “People have to make decisions however they see fit,” DeRozan said. “You may agree with them, you may not, but it’s part of being in this game.” DeRozan added that he hasn’t spoken to LaVine or Caruso about the speculation, choosing instead to focus on their work with the team.
  • Caruso has been one of the few bright spots for Chicago. The 29-year-old is averaging career highs in several statistical categories, including points per game (10.0), field goal percentage (56.3%) and three-point percentage (47.9%), among others. Speaking to Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic, Caruso expressed optimism that Chicago is “really close” to being a good team, but has been plagued by inconsistency. Asked if the Bulls needed a “shakeup,” Caruso said the term was too general to really answer the question. “You play so many games,” he said as part of a larger quote. “And we’re not even 20 percent of the way through the season. I don’t know if shakeup is the right word for it. But definitely just some changes to our daily routine and changes to our daily habits. Like I said, consistency’s been something we’ve talked about. We have to change that from within.”

Bulls Notes: LaVine, Donovan, Drummond, Karnisovas

After reports over the weekend indicated that the Bulls weren’t thrilled by Zach LaVine blowing off a post-game media interview on Saturday, head coach Billy Donovan addressed the issue on Monday, telling reporters that it has been handled internally, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. According to Johnson, LaVine apologized to and spoke at length to the PR employee he ignored after Saturday’s win.

“Me being here for the time that I’ve been here, I really think we have good quality people,” Donovan said. “That goes from players to medical to PR people. They’re really great people to work with. My thing is I want everybody to treat everybody with class and respect and help each other do their job. We all have jobs to do. And they’re difficult and demanding and there are emotions in that. My wish would be that everybody helps each other in doing their job to the best of their ability.”

As Johnson writes, LaVine has been accommodating to the media and represented the franchise professionally during his six-plus years in Chicago, so Saturday’s incident was an anomaly and drew greater scrutiny because the guard has been the subject of trade rumors as of late. However, Donovan said he likes what he’s seen from LaVine on the court recently and hasn’t noticed any changes in the 28-year-old’s demeanor behind the scenes.

“I did not see anything different from him in that locker room when I walked in (on Saturday),” Donovan said. “I didn’t get a guy who wasn’t in the locker room or in a different room or upset or pouting or turned around. I talked to him after the game. He talked to players after the game. I saw a normal Zach in there.”

Here’s more on the Bulls:

  • For a second straight season, Andre Drummond is playing a limited role off the bench in Chicago. The two-time All-Star is averaging just 13.8 minutes per night, but has been productive in those minutes, putting up 6.1 points and 6.2 rebounds per night. As Johnson writes for NBC Sports Chicago, Drummond still believes he’s a starting-caliber center, but he has no complaints about coming off the bench for the Bulls. “I got a lot left in the tank, man. Still very healthy. Still very young,” he said on Monday. “I still have a lot left to give. I know my role for this team and what I have to give. So I try to do it to the best of my ability.”
  • Coming into this season, the Bulls had vowed to play faster, but that plan hasn’t panned out, notes Jamal Collier of ESPN.com. The club currently ranks 29th in the NBA in pace and 27th in offensive rating, and Donovan has acknowledged that Chicago isn’t going to be a “racehorse” team. “That’s fine, you can still be effective and productive,” Donovan said. “You have to play to your personnel and what you have.”
  • President of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas bears the brunt of the responsibility for the Bulls’ struggles this season, according to Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic, who writes that the front office’s bet on continuity looks like a failed one, with little reason to believe things will turn around anytime soon. The only question is how much longer Karnisovas will give the current group, says Mayberry.
  • In case you missed it, Alex Caruso and Patrick Williams are said to be the Bulls players generating the most intrigue among potential trade partners, as we relayed on Monday.

Central Notes: Bulls, LaVine, Lakers, Cunningham, Cavs, Walker

While Zach LaVine has been mentioned in several rumors this fall after it was reported that both he and the Bulls are increasingly open to exploring a trade, the two-time All-Star isn’t one of the two players on Chicago’s roster that rival teams have shown the most interest in thus far, reports Marc Stein at Substack. Six-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan and two-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic aren’t on the list either.

All-Defensive guard Alex Caruso is the Bulls player opposing teams are most intrigued by, per Stein, followed by forward Patrick Williams.

As Stein writes, the Bulls haven’t made Caruso available, but he would have a “double-digit list of suitors” if that were to happen. As for Williams, who was the No. 4 overall pick in 2020, Stein says rivals still find him intriguing despite a very poor start to the season. Williams is set to hit restricted free agency in 2024.

In the same article, Stein says he’s heard the Lakers‘ rumored interest in LaVine is “best described (at most)” as to be determined. According to Stein, L.A. hopes that Jarred Vanderbilt (heel) and Gabe Vincent (knee) will provide a “meaningful boost” once they return from their respective injuries.

Here’s more from the Central:

  • As a former No. 1 overall pick who was the top recruit in his high school class, plenty of hype has followed Cade Cunningham. But advanced stats are extremely low on the third-year Pistons guard, according to Zach Kram of The Ringer, who writes that Cunningham has trouble scoring efficiently from all over the court. Kram takes an in-depth look at Cunningham’s game and his advanced metrics, suggesting that he might be more of a No. 2 offensive option on a good team rather than the No. 1 option he’s been made out to be.
  • The Cavaliers had perhaps their best win of the season on Sunday, defeating the defending-champion nuggets without Donovan Mitchell (hamstring) and Caris LeVert (knee). However, the victory didn’t answer the two biggest questions facing the franchise, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic: Has Cleveland has improved enough to advance past the first round of the playoffs? And is Mitchell “happy enough” to sign an extension next year to stay long term?
  • Jarace Walker, the No. 8 overall pick in June’s draft, has only played 41 total minutes over four games for the Pacers to this point, mostly in garbage time. Head coach Rick Carlisle has told the young forward to stay ready, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. “This is what being a professional is all about,” Carlisle said. “He’s probably always played at every level he’s played at from middle school to high school to college, AAU, you name it, but given the present circumstance, you gotta be a pro and work at your craft and you gotta be ready. I talked to him two days ago and let him know. I said, ‘I don’t know when it’s gonna happen but your time is coming. That’s how it works in this league.'”

Bulls Front Office Reportedly “Less Than Thrilled” With LaVine

The Bulls secured a come-from-behind, 21-point comeback win against the Heat on Saturday, but the victory wasn’t without drama, according to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley.

Star guard Zach LaVine “all but stormed off” the court and cameras caught him pulling his arm away from the team’s public relations director during an attempt to get him to fulfill his post-game media obligations, Cowley writes.

Just a miscommunication with the PR team,” LaVine said. “We’re all fine.

According to Cowley’s sources, Chicago’s front office was immediately made aware of the situation and are “less than thrilled” with LaVine’s actions. Further, Cowley adds that when coach Billy Donovan found out about the incident, he was “downright ticked.”

All of this comes off the heels of reporting over the past week indicating LaVine and the Bulls are both open to exploring a potential change of scenery.

LaVine is one of the league’s premier scorers, averaging 24.4 points and shooting 38.4% from deep since arriving in Chicago. Despite his individual success, the Bulls have just one playoff appearance in the six full seasons he’s been there and at 5-9 this year, look to be fast-tracking toward missing the playoffs or an early exit.

Of course, the Bulls’ issues don’t start and end with LaVine. To his credit, he emerged into a two-time All-Star there and Chicago has dealt with numerous issues during his time with the team. The biggest what-if facing this current grouping is the long-term absence of Lonzo Ball, who hasn’t played since Jan. 14, 2022 and isn’t expected back anytime soon. When Ball was healthy, the Bulls were 26-10 at one point and sat atop the Eastern Conference standings with this very core.

Additionally, the post-game issues could have truly been a misunderstanding. Still, Cowley reporting anger from Chicago management and coaching is significant and adds another chapter to the perception of disconnect between the parties.