After years of front-office and coaching disarray, Chicago Bulls president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf hired Arturas Karnisovas in April 2020 to reshape his basketball operations and restore playoff contention. So far, the results are remarkable. Years of organizational missteps and mistrust faded fast, replaced with a fully functional first-place franchise.
"When we hired Arturas, I was confident that he would help turn things around, but I can't say I thought it would be this quickly," Reinsdorf told ESPN. "There are no issues. There's no drama. Just everyone wanting to get to the next level. It's a good feeling."
As the Bulls (27-12) host the Golden State Warriors on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), Reinsdorf made it clear that he's declaring no major accomplishment so soon in the season's journey, but conceded: "It's exciting for the Chicago Bulls to be relevant again."
The Bulls have missed the playoffs in six of the past seven years, but that's likely to change this spring. Reinsdorf believes the decision to hire Karnisovas amid the league's shutdown delivered him an ability to expedite the organizational rebuild.
"We hired Arturas at the beginning of COVID, when a lot of teams were in a holding pattern," Reinsdorf told ESPN. "A lot of times, people come and clean house. He took the time to get to know people in our organization."
The Bulls didn't qualify for the Orlando restart, and eventually Karnisovas fired ex-coach Jim Boylen. Everything changed in September when Billy Donovan left the Oklahoma City Thunder, prompting Karnisovas to inform Reinsdorf that he was flying to Florida immediately to meet with him.
"The minute that Billy Donovan announced that he wasn't returning to Oklahoma City, Arturas was ready to camp out at his house," Reinsdorf told ESPN. "Billy's hiring was such a pivotal move for the Chicago Bulls."
Karnisovas and Donovan are among the front-runners for Executive and Coach of the Year awards. With them leading together, Reinsdorf has watched something within the Bulls that had been missing for years: the building of trust and relationships. Donovan has been long considered peerless in his ability to connect with players, and that's turned into an immense part of All-Star guard Zach LaVine's evolution in Chicago.
"Arturas and Billy really took the time to get to know Zach LaVine, and knew that he wanted to win," Reinsdorf told ESPN. "Zach had been on some bad teams, and just like it wasn't Devin Booker's fault in Phoenix for those years, it wasn't Zach's fault here. We needed to get him help. Billy, Arturas and [general manager] Marc Eversley spend a lot of time with our players. These aren't assets, these are people. But especially with Zach, they took time to understand what he is all about. It was easy for people on the outside to say, "Oh, he's just a scorer and he doesn't care.' But these guys knew better about Zach, because they spend time and get beyond the basketball with him."
"It's exciting for the Chicago Bulls to be relevant again." Michael Reinsdorf,
Bulls president and COO
Reinsdorf thinks back to the start of free agency in August, when Karnisovas dispatched Eversley to meet with the franchise's No. 1 target: DeMar DeRozan. Eversley and DeRozan had history together back with the Toronto Raptors.
"Arturas' ego isn't that he needs to be the man on every deal," Reinsdorf told ESPN. "He was aggressive in trading for [Nikola Vucevic] last year and showed everyone here that the status quo wasn't good enough. It was smart, and it was the beginning of a chain of events that led us to where we are today.
"As we built out our roster, we turned the focus to defense too. Alex Caruso has been instrumental. Lonzo Ball has been a great addition, pushing the pace for us. He's the perfect complement. Getting Ayo Dosunmu in the second round [at 38th overall]. We had him higher on our draft board.
"Listen, this isn't a victory lap, but it's nice to be relevant and in the mix in games that are intense and matter. We have a lot of work to do, but we're happy where we're at so far."