Arturas Karnisovas reportedly will be Bulls’ 3rd head of basketball operations — and 1st outside hire — since 1985

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CHICAGO — Arturas Karnisovas has become one of the most coveted and respected executives in the NBA, one several teams — the Bucks, 76ers and Nets included — have attempted to lure away from the Nuggets with no success.

The chance to run the Bulls, a job only two men have held since 1985 and one that has not been open since 2003, finally was enough to entice him.

The Bulls and Karnisovas were finalizing a deal to make him the franchise’s new executive vice president of basketball operations, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported late Wednesday. Karnisovas will replace John Paxson as the new top basketball executive and will be tasked with overseeing a front-office overhaul, including hiring a new general manager.

Karnisovas, 48, joins the Bulls after spending the last seven years with the Nuggets, the last three as general manager. He helped build one of the most talented young rosters in the league. The Nuggets were the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and on pace for more than 50 wins when the season was suspended.

Karnisovas has received a lot of credit for that success as the right-hand man to president of basketball operations Tim Connelly and was crucial to their success building through the draft with his connections around the globe. Karnisovas spent a few years working for the NBA league office, tasked with identifying and developing international talent. He played college basketball at Seton Hall and represented Lithuania in the Olympics. Before arriving in Denver, he gained a background in analytics as an international scout with Daryl Morey and the Rockets.

Those strengths in scouting, drafting and player development — in addition to his reputation around the league — made Karnisovas a strong choice to reshape the Bulls. And they moved quickly to hire him: After interviewing earlier in the week, Karnisovas emerged as an early favorite and reportedly received a second interview Wednesday with Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and Chief Operating Officer Michael Reinsdorf.

The Bulls began laying the groundwork for this move in February, so while it’s no surprise they were ready to act quickly, their process still had its flaws. They were not able to successfully interview some of their top initial targets and met with candidates who exited their previous organizations under controversy with incidents of racism — all while not interviewing any minority candidates in a league in which three-fourths of the players are African American, catching criticism from black executives around the league.

The Bulls and Karnisovas are expected to hire a person of color to be their next general manager, Yahoo Sports reported Thursday, as they attempt to add some diversity to what has been a historically white and small front office.

Karnisovas marks the Bulls’ first outside hire for the basketball operations position since Reinsdorf took over in 1984.

Jerry Krause worked for the organization before he was named general manager in 1985, and Paxson was a Bulls player, coach and broadcaster before he got the job in 2003. Paxson is expected to remain in the organization as an adviser, willing to accept either as large or small of a role in the restructured front office as Karnisovas would like.

By moving now, the Bulls give themselves a chance to have a new executive in place for the resumption of the NBA season, whenever that could be. It also gives Karnisovas a chance to begin evaluating the organization while the league is on pause for the coronavirus pandemic. The futures of general manager Gar Forman and coach Jim Boylen also remain unclear, but the Bulls will give Karnisovas full authority in the decision-making process.

Karnisovas, of course, checked off all of the boxes for the Bulls as they looked to reshape their organization and will give them fresh eyes to lead the charge.

He was a member of a collaborative front office in Denver and provided integral drafting skills, with his claim to fame being identifying two-time All-Star Nikola Jokic and pushing the team to select him in the second round of the 2014 draft. On that same night, the Nuggets pulled off a trade that sent Doug McDermott to the Bulls and landed Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic.

Karnisovas is described as low key and was happy to fly under the radar during his time in Denver, so perhaps there will be some adjustment in his new role. But after years of Karnisovas being one of the most sought-after candidates in the NBA, the Bulls were successful in prying him from the Nuggets, ushering in the kind of leadership change that happens once about every two decades in the organization.


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