Michael Reinsdorf

Bulls’ Ownership Excited About New Front Office

The Bulls made some changes this offseason, bringing in Arturas Karnisovas to be the team’s head of basketball operations and Marc Eversley to be the new general manager. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf has high hopes for the newly-hired duo.

“I’m excited about these guys,” Reinsdorf told K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. “In talking with Arturas and hearing what everyone else said about him, I was convinced we made the right decision. He’s not an egomaniac. He’s not shy. He seems balanced and basketball smart. That’s what I got out of the interview.”

Karnisovas is just the third person to hold the head of basketball operations title since Reinsdorf took over control of the team. Jerry Krause and John Paxson were the other two executives to run things in Chicago. However, unlike the previous hires, Reinsdorf didn’t lead the search and interview process; his son, Michael Reinsdorf, did.

“At the end of the day, my Dad, Jerry, is still the boss. So we had to have that final interview with my dad, and we did that over video. And it was clear after that meeting that we had our new head of basketball operations,” the younger Reinsdorf said in April. “I think what my Dad said to me after the meeting when we reconvened was: ‘I never thought you would find anyone as great as Arturas.’ So I knew we were done, and that night we were able to negotiate a deal with Arturas.”

Bulls Notes: Front Office, Boylen, Forman, Paxson

On a conference call today introducing new executive VP of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, Bulls COO Michael Reinsdorf said that it was clear during the search process that the former Denver GM “checked every box,” as K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago tweets. Reinsdorf admitted that his father, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, ultimately had to sign off on the hire, but said “it was clear after that meeting that we had our guy.”

Karnisovas, meanwhile, confirmed that J.J. Polk and Pat Connelly will join the Bulls’ front office, as previously reported, and said that hiring a general manager is next on his list of priorities. According to Karnisovas, the GM search will be “extensive and diverse,” and the goal will be to hire an executive whose skills complement his own, rather than overlapping significantly with his strengths (all Twitter links via K.C. Johnson).

As for the future of head coach Jim Boylen, that remains up in the air, with Karnisovas telling reporters that there’s no timeline for a decision on Boylen or the coaching staff (Twitter link via Johnson).

Boylen took the unusual step of issuing a welcome message to the new head of basketball operations through the team’s PR department, lauding Karnisovas’ résumé and commending the Reinsdorfs for bringing him aboard.

Here’s more on the Bulls:

  • Karnisovas offered the following explanation when asked about Gar Forman‘s dismissal: “After some consideration and conversation, it was apparent that we have different philosophies that will prevent us from moving forward. Those decisions are never easy. I was hired to affect change” (Twitter link via Johnson).
  • Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times tweets that Forman’s departure should increase the Bulls’ appeal to free agents. Forman’s presence “poisoned the well” with players and agents, according to Cowley, who says the longtime general manager was viewed as “untrustworthy.”
  • Confirming a recent report, Michael Reinsdorf said today that it was John Paxson who came to ownership in the winter to suggest the need for changes in the front office (Twitter link via Johnson). Previously the Bulls’ executive VP of basketball operations, Paxson will now be a senior advisor.
  • After facing some criticism last week for a perceived lack of diversity in the Bulls’ front office search, Reinsdorf defended the team’s record on that front, as Johnson details for NBC Sports Chicago. According to Reinsdorf, two of the six candidates on the team’s short list for head of basketball operations were people of color, but Chicago was denied permission to interview both.
  • Karnisovas said today that facilitating player development will be one of his primary goals in Chicago, since the Bulls are a young team with a handful of promising young players (Twitter link via Johnson).

Bulls Notes: Karnisovas, Zanik, Reinsdorf, Boylen

Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas made a strong impression on the Bulls‘ front office during his interview today, a source tells Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Management plans to meet with Karnisovas again electronically in a few days, and he could be hired as soon as next week.

A few other prominent names emerged today from the team’s interview process and some of them may be added to the organization as well, Cowley adds, as chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf is using the makeover to create depth in the front office. Cowley states that not all the interviews have been for the executive VP of basketball operations position, and some of them were just former executives that Reinsdorf wanted to gather information from.

The source says Jazz executive Justin Zanik also impressed Reinsdorf with his background in player relationships and salary cap knowledge. The Bulls may decide to hire several executives and have them manage separate departments.

There’s more tonight from Chicago:

  • NBA writer Stephen Noh examines Karnisovas’ background in a story on The Patreon. His aggressive philosophy toward trades was shaped by his first NBA job with the Rockets more than a decade ago, where he worked with general manager Daryl Morey, former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie and current Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas. “They would call every team constantly and look for ideas of how they can make their team better.” Karnisovas said. “That’s what I took and still to this day, I believe in coming up with 100 ideas. Maybe one will stick.” 
  • Jeremy Woo of Sports Illustrated examines some of the challenges awaiting whoever gets hired to run the team. He believes there’s too much young talent in place for a complete overhaul, but veterans such as Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky may be moved. A decision also has to be made on the fate of head coach Jim Boylen.
  • Black executives around the league are upset that no African American candidates have been interviewed in the Bulls’ front office search, according to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated“It’s clear there is an underlying hypocrisy telling us the NBA is diverse, but when an opportunity comes, the process isn’t,” a black assistant GM said. “All we want is a chance. As a black man, all we want is a fair opportunity to show we are just as qualified.”

Bulls Notes: Markkanen, Porter, Boylen, White

Bulls power forward Lauri Markkanen was unhappy with the direction of the offense under coach Jim Boylen and his role in it, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. Markkanen’s frustration had reached a point where he’d rather be dealt if organization changes weren’t made, Cowley continues. It’s possible the new front office executive — the Bulls are lining up interviews with candidates — could look to trade Markkanen if they feel the relationship is beyond repair, Cowley adds.

We have more on the Bulls:

  • Within that same story, Cowley writes that the Bulls are keeping a close eye on the Heat. In addition to seeking an interview with Miami’s assistant GM Adam Simon, Chicago has also considered emulating the Heat’s front office structure, and has done homework on free agents like Goran Dragic and Derrick Jones.
  • Otto Porter Jr. will likely be in a lame duck situation as the team’s small forward next season, Cowley writes in a separate story. Porter will surely exercise his $28.5MM option for next season after an injury-plagued campaign and his salary will come off the books just in time for the much-anticipated 2021 free-agent class. Boylen has even hinted he might have Porter come off the bench next season.
  • Boylen’s future with the organization will be determined by the lead executive the Bulls hire, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago reports. Boylen has the support of COO Michael Reinsdorf and executive VP John Paxson but a desire of the new executive to hire his own coach wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, Johnson continues, confirming one of his earlier stories. While Reinsdorf has been handling the search, Paxson has been a driving force on the need for change and a more modern front office, Johnson adds.
  • The team’s ceiling for next season with its current group is a low-end playoff seed unless 2019 lottery pick Coby White develops rapidly, Kevin Pelton of ESPN opines. White needs to emerge as a knockdown shooter, something he flashed late in the season.  It’s unlikely the new executive will pursue an extension with Markkanen, but if he bounces back and breaks out, the Bulls can still benefit by utilizing his “relatively modest” $20.2MM cap hold as he enters restricted free agency, Pelton adds.

Bulls To Seek Interviews With Karnisovas, Webster, Others

1:24pm: Pacers GM Chad Buchanan will  join Karnisovas and Webster on the Bulls’ list of first-wave interview targets, per K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune (via Twitter). Sources tell Darnell Mayberry and Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link) that Heat assistant GM Adam Simon will be part of that group as well.

According to Mayberry (Twitter link), the Bulls won’t pursue Ujiri or Thunder head of basketball operations Sam Presti and won’t go the player-agent route like New York and other teams have.

12:41pm: The Bulls have formally launched their search for a new top front office executive who will have full authority on basketball decisions, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. We had previously heard in a series of February reports that the team was laying the groundwork for front office changes.

Those February reports suggested that executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson would retain a “valuable seat at the table” amidst the front office upheaval and that general manager Gar Forman would have his responsibilities cut back.

Wojnarowski confirms that Paxson is expected to continue in an advisory role and says that the club will have more conversations with Forman about his future. Previous reports indicated Forman would likely be re-assigned to a scouting position.

According to Wojnarowski, Chicago plans to seek permission to interview Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas and Raptors GM Bobby Webster, among others. The club’s goal is to complete its planned front office changes “well before” the NBA resumes play, per Woj, who hears that interviews will begin next week and will be conducted virtually rather than in person due to the coronavirus.

Neither Karnisovas nor Webster is the head of basketball operations for his respective team — Tim Connelly serves as Denver’s president of basketball operations, while Masai Ujiri holds that position in Toronto. However, the two GMs have risen through their respective organizations in recent years and have played important roles in building the Nuggets’ and Raptors’ talented rosters.

According to K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago, who identified Karnisovas and Webster as two possible targets for the Bulls in a March mailbag, Pacers GM Chad Buchanan, Heat assistant GM Adam Simon, Jazz GM Justin Zanik, and Clippers GM Michael Winger are among the other executives on Bulls president/COO Michael Reinsdorf‘s list of potential candidates (Twitter link).

Many of those executives are under contract beyond the 2019/20 season, but likely wouldn’t be held back by their respective teams if the Bulls’ job is viewed as a promotion from their current roles. Based on Woj’s description, it should be.

The timing of Chicago’s search is interesting. Ujiri spoke earlier this week about putting business like contract extensions for himself and Nick Nurse on hold during the NBA’s stoppage, and we heard on Thursday that the Knicks aren’t pursuing front office changes or a new head coach during the hiatus. Nets GM Sean Marks also said this week that his team isn’t moving forward with its head coach search at this time.

However, no official hiring or firing freeze has been instituted by the NBA, and the Bulls’ situation is a little different from that of those other teams — a new top front office executive would lead the team’s decisions in the draft and free agency, making that search a more pressing matter than a head coaching hire, lower-level front office changes, or extensions for current execs and coaches.

Latest On Bulls’ Front Office Search

After Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times and K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago reported during All-Star weekend that the Bulls were laying the groundwork to hire a new general manager and re-assign Gar Forman to a scouting role, both reporters have offered updates on Chicago’s forthcoming front office changes.

A source tells Cowley that the Bulls are still determining how the power structure in the new-look front office will work, noting that multiple executives could be hired, rather than just a GM to replace Forman. Cowley’s source also says that VP of basketball operations John Paxson will still have a “valuable seat at the table” in the restructured front office, even if it appears as if he’s transitioning to a background role.

While it remains to be seen how the Bulls’ management group will be structured once new hires are made, Cowley’s report indicates that Paxson and COO Michael Reinsdorf are still “running the show.” The Reinsdorfs – including owner Jerry Reinsdorf – have “100 percent faith” in Paxson to lead the organization, Cowley writes.

If a new general manager has to report to Paxson, it may be more challenging for the Bulls to recruit a top-tier candidate. However, K.C. Johnson hears from multiple league sources that Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan is one candidate who appears to be gaining momentum.

Buchanan, who previously held front office roles in Charlotte and Portland, was named Indiana’s GM in 2017 when the team promoted Kevin Pritchard to president of basketball operations. According to Johnson, Buchanan is “widely known for his embrace of analytics.” He and Pritchard have done a good job retooling the Pacers’ roster over the last three years, starting with the Paul George trade that netted the team a pair of All-Stars (Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis) despite being widely panned at the time.

Because he’s already a level below the head of basketball operations in Indiana, Buchanan may be open to a position working under – or alongside – Paxson in Chicago. Still, Johnson’s report doesn’t suggest that the Bulls have asked for or received permission to interview the Pacers’ executive yet.

Bulls Preparing For Front Office Changes

7:57pm: K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago echoes many of Cowley’s points in his own report, writing that talk has been “rampant throughout All-Star weekend” about the changes the Bulls are expected to make to their front office. The team is seeking someone to take on the day-to-day basketball operations and become a “fresh voice and face of the franchise,” writes Johnson.

7:21pm: The Bulls are in the early stages of adding a new executive to their front office, sources tell Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. According to Cowley, vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and COO Michael Reinsdorf have begun to do legwork – through back channels – on potential candidates.

Cowley, who suggests the Bulls are in the market for a general manager “with a louder voice,” writes that the search is expected to be widespread. Gar Forman still holds the GM role in Chicago for now, but senior advisor Doug Collins is among those who are in favor of a change, according to Cowley.

As Cowley explains, the idea would be for Paxson to “slip into the background” as the new general manager assumes media duties. Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf likes the model employed by the Chicago White Sox, with Ken Williams in the background as the VP while Rick Hahn has been more empowered in his GM role. For the Bulls, Paxson would take on a Williams-esque role, with the new GM playing Hahn’s part.

Forman, meanwhile, would likely be reassigned to a scouting position rather than being fired, per Cowley, who notes that the team wants to build up its scouting department this spring.

Paxson and Forman have headed the Bulls’ front office for over a decade, much to the chagrin of a significant faction of Bulls fans. During Friday’s episode of ESPN’s First Take, when guard Zach LaVine was asked whether he has confidence in Chicago’s decision-makers, the fans in attendance began to boo and a chant of “Fire GarPax!” broke out (link via Madeline Kenney of The Chicago Sun-Times).

Assuming the Bulls do move forward with the front office changes Cowley outlines in his report, it’ll be interesting to see whether the club sticks with head coach Jim Boylen, who has received the full support of the current group. Boylen’s current contract isn’t a long-term deal, so it’s possible a new GM would be given the go-ahead to make the call on his future.

Reinsdorf Defends Staff, Sees ‘Big Jump’ Next Season

Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf defended his top front office executives and head coach in a radio interview on Monday and said he expects the team to make big strides next season. Reinsdorf made those comments on 670 The Score’s Mully and Haugh (hat tip to NBC Sports Chicago’s Dan Santaromita).

Reinsdorf and the Bulls have taken a lot of heat for retaining GM Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson. Reinsdorf said the duo built “championship-caliber teams” before Derrick Rose suffered serious knee injuries. He also feels they have drafted well, naming Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah among their best picks.

He’s confident with a young core group and a high lottery pick, the Bulls are on the upswing. Heading into Tuesday’s lottery, Chicago holds the No. 4 spot.

“I feel like we have a great opportunity with this year’s draft to add another player and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think we can jump from where we were this year to a much better record,” Reinsdorf said. “I really think we’re set up. … I don’t claim that next year we’re going to be a championship caliber team, but I think you’re going to see the next step next year and a big jump.”

The Bulls could have up to $19MM in cap space this summer and Reinsdorf says they’ll use it to fortify the bench.

“We’re going to follow this plan through,” Reinsdorf said. “We have some cap space this year to spend on players. I do think we need to add to our depth and we’ll do that.”

Chicago’s decision to hand Jim Boylen a multiyear extension also caused grumbling among Bulls fans, considering the team’s 22-60 record. Reinsdorf was convinced by season’s end that the head coach had earned it.

“I think we knew towards the end of the season that Jim was the right person for us,” Reinsdorf said. “We had enough experience with him and so it was just a matter of getting the contract done.”