CHICAGO – It was a foregone conclusion for many people before the season even began that the Bulls’ 2020-2021 season would likely come to an end in mid-May.
That was the conclusion of the team’s 72-game season, and with a roster featuring few changes after three straight playoff-less seasons, most thought the group needed a year of evaluation with a new front office.
As it turns out, that was the case for the Bulls this season, though it played out a little differently than people expected. A few major mid-season trades, including one to acquire All-Star center Nikola Vucevic from the Magic, made getting to the postseason a goal in the moment and not the future.
But the group couldn’t find the chemistry necessary to work in the five new players to the roster, and Zach LaVine’s late-season absence due to COVID-19 left the Bulls on the outside looking in at the postseason.
For executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas, it made for a bitter end to his first season at the helm of the franchise. He prided the team for their intensity late in the season, but as he looks towards an important offseason, he made it clear that this won’t cut it.
“I know each player is disappointed with that season and I want them to go into the offseason feeling that way and remember what it feels like and, again, to figure out the ways that it doesn’t happen again,” said Karnisovas. “We’re going to do that collectively. From our side, we’re going to add talent to our roster and from them to get better and come back improved and better so we don’t have to sit out another postseason.
“I don’t like to watch now postseason games just because I’m not happy we’re not in it. I’m a competitive guy.”
While disappointed with finishing with a 31-41 record, he did understand that this kind of season will be a critical part of building the team back into a contender.
“You cannot skip steps. The greatest lessons are learned through experience, what doesn’t work. We have to grow from going through what we through this year and move forward to gain respect in this league,” said Karnisovas. “We are certainly not satisfied, but we will learn from it, adjust, and make sure what did not go well does not happen again.”
During his season-ending news conference, Karnisovas pointed to the Bulls’ amount of turnovers, inability to get to the free throw line, along with their offensive dip in the second half of the season as primary areas of concern.
Karnisovas did salute Billy Donovan and the coaching staff for their efforts during the season, and now it’s time for the front office to go to work. They’ll have to hope for some lottery luck since their first round pick goes to the Magic in the Vucevic trade unless it ends up in the Top Four.
Lauri Markkanen, the team’s 2017 first round draft pick, is set to become a restricted free agent though Karnisovas was complimentary of him and his meaning to the team on Monday. Daniel Theis, Denzel Valentine, and Garrett Temple are among the others who will hit the market this offseason.
Who stays, who goes, and who arrives over the summer will determine the next steps of the franchise’s return to the upper echelon of the NBA, with a simple mantra in mind.
“We will not settle for mediocrity here,” said Karnisovas, even in a year when it was evident the team was in transition.