Chicago

With few sellers, Bulls’ Arturas Karnisovas may stay pat at deadline

Billy Donovan swears there’s a sense of humor in there.

The Bulls coach went out of his way to point that out, discussing the usually stoic personality displayed by executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas.

“I think a lot of times, you guys see Arturas, he’s very, very stoic, but he’s very, very funny,’’ Donovan said. “He’s got an incredible sense of humor.’’

Donovan will have to be taken for his word, because in meeting with the media for the first time since the regular season started, Karnisovas was mostly transparent with his answers, but definitely all business.

The knee-slappers would have to wait.

And the topic that was front and center for the first-year VP to discuss? Plans for this roster as the Mar. 25 trade deadline approaches.

“I think expanding the playoffs to 10 teams and then two or three are still delusional and think that they can make it to 10, I think that makes a very interesting trade deadline,’’ Karnisovas said, agreeing that there are very few sellers right now. “But you know Billy and I spend more time talking about how we can improve this group, and focus now on this group that we have, that’s actually playing well, and had a first month of winning in February. I think overall this group is doing so much better and looking forward to seeing the next 40 games.’’

So does that mean the Bulls will likely stay as is, continuing to develop and evaluate? They very well could, especially if that’s what the market is dictating.

“I never look at players as trade commodities,’’ Karnisovas said. “Right now, we’re focused on winning games, because the separation between fourth and 10th place is a game-and-a-half. So this group is doing pretty well, and hopefully we can get Lauri [Markkanen] back and OP [Otto Porter] and see what we can do with this team.

“I just think teams are going to try to improve, and like you said, there’s not going to be a lot of sellers. So I think we’re just going to focus on our guys and how to get them better.’’

They took strides in that department once again, overcoming a 12-point first-quarter deficit against – coincidentally Karnisovas’ former organization – the Nuggets, but unfortunately are still stuck on that learning how to win lesson, losing 118-112.

Go ahead point the finger at two very obvious culprits, as they had no answer for Denver big man Nikola Jokic, who finished with 39 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, and they had more late-game execution problems.

The Jokic situation was an expected problem, considering the way other skilled big men like Joel Embiid and Nikola Vucevic have punished the Bulls (15-18) this season.

“He’s definitely a unique player,’’ center Wendell Carter Jr. said of the matchup. “He does a little bit of everything. He’s just a phenomenal player.

“He doesn’t force anything, he takes his time, whether he’s in the post or in the pocket, and he has great teammates around him.’’

Jokic is also 6-foot-11, and a legit 6-11. Carter is listed at 6-10 and that’s a stretch. There are just bigs in this league that overwhelm him at times.

“[Carter’s] a tough kid, he tries to physically compete,’’ Donovan said after the loss. “Certainly on nights against Embiid or Vucevic or even [Monday] against Jokic, those are hard matchups, not only for Wendell, but for anybody.

“He’s probably an undersized center. … Certainly on some nights it can be challenging for him, but he does give good effort, he does fight, he tries to give you everything he has.’’

Could Karnisovas bring in some help for the middle by the deadline? Maybe. But if the trade landscape doesn’t change in the next few weeks it sounded highly unlikely.

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