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Bulls’ VP Artūras Karnišovas defends Nikola Vučević trade

Jett Howard’s father, Juwan, grew up in Chicago, but that’s not the Michigan guard’s only connection to the city.

Howard’s selection by the Orlando Magic with the 11th pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft placed the final name in and closed the books on the Chicago Bulls’ bold acquisition of Nikola Vucevic back in March 2021.

While there’s obviously no guarantee the Bulls would’ve drafted either of Howard or 2021 Magic pick Franz Wagner, the full trade is now this: Vucevic and the since-traded Al-Farouq Aminu for Otto Porter Jr., Carter Jr., Howard and Wagner.

So now that the trade has a final name, how does Artūras Karnišovas view it?

“I think that transaction when we brought Vooch here showed everyone that we’re trying to win,” Karnišovas said. “I think once we brought Vooch, we brought in DeMar (DeRozan), we brought Alex Caruso, we brought ‘Zo (Lonzo Ball). That started trying to improve our team and trying to be competitive. I thought that deal worked out pretty well for us.”

The Bulls did avoid completely sitting out of the draft for the first time since 2005. After forfeiting their second-round pick as penalty for early free-agency contact with Lonzo Ball in 2021, they acquired the draft rights to Tennessee freshman wing Julian Phillips at the 35th pick in a trade with the Washington Wizards.

That marked management’s first trade since their flurry of moves in August 2021 that netted DeRozan and Ball via sign-and-trade acquisitions, Derrick Jones Jr. in a three-team trade with the Cavaliers and Trail Blazers that sent out Lauri Markkanen and the free-agency signing of Alex Caruso.

Between August 2021 and Thursday, executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas, general manager Marc Eversley and their staff drafted Dalen Terry in 2022, signed veterans Goran Dragic and Andre Drummond in 2022 free agency and added Tristan Thompson in 2022 and Patrick Beverley in 2023 from the buyout markets for stretch runs that have produced one playoff appearance in 2022.

The focus now shifts not only to re-signing Vucevic but to free agency, which opens July 1. The Bulls face decisions on restricted free agents Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu and also want to add shooting.

“We’re trying to change our shooting profile,” Karnišovas said. “Being last in the league in rate from 3 and 3-point makes, we’re going to try to address that in the offseason.”

At their disposal will be the midlevel and biannual exceptions, although Karnišovas, Eversley and their staff face a tough needle to thread given the franchise’s history of avoiding the luxury tax. Even with that figure’s projection coming in $3 million higher at $165 million and Derrick Jones Jr. declining his player option, the Bulls project to be near the tax if they re-sign Vucevic and White.

So how does Karnišovas expect to approach free agency? He sounded confident, even answering “yes” when asked if he believes he has the green light from ownership to enter luxury tax territory.

Karnišovas said the Bulls looked at some opportunities to acquire a first-round pick, although sources indicated no serious talks centered on Zach LaVine. In fact, sources said not only did the Bulls and Knicks not seriously discuss a LaVine trade at the February deadline, the Knicks aren’t considered a trading partner in the future because of concerns over LaVine’s injury history and contract.

The Bulls are moving forward with LaVine for now, as well as much of their core.

“I think we all were disappointed the way the season ended. Zach was one of the guys who was very disappointed with the way it ended in Miami. He went into offseason to get better,” Karnišovas said. “He’s already working out with Ty Abbott, (our) player development (coach) in LA. He’s trying to get better.”

That’s management’s goal for the Bulls too.

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