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Chicago Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf praises executive VP Arturas Karnisovas for helping make team relevant again

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After years of front office and coaching disarray, Chicago Bulls president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf hired Arturas Karnisovas 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 PM ET, ESPN), Reinsdorf makes 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 in April of 2020 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 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 frontrunners for Executive and Coach of the Year awards. Together, Reinsdorf has watched something within the Bulls that had been missing for years: The building of trust and relationships. Donovan’s 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 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 to 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 (38th overall) in the second-round. 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.”

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Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel addresses job security

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LOS ANGELES — Just 15 months removed from guiding the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA championship, coach Frank Vogel once again found himself answering questions about his job security on Wednesday night.

“I don’t feel like I’m under siege,” Vogel said before the Lakers hosted the Indiana Pacers. “It’s not hard to do my job, I’m very focused on the task at hand. I’ve always been that way.”

Following a 37-point loss to the Denver Nuggets over the weekend — which was L.A.’s third straight loss at the time, with the Lakers’ defense allowing 125 points or more in all three defeats — Vogel’s job was in jeopardy, according to various reports.

Had L.A. suffered a similar result in Monday’s game against the Utah Jazz, the Lakers’ front office could have felt compelled to remove Vogel from his post, sources told ESPN.

Instead, the Lakers beat the Jazz 101-95 in the team’s most complete performance of the season. The Lakers held the league’s No. 1 offense to just 37.3% shooting and downed the No. 4 team in the Western Conference despite missing All-Star big man Anthony Davis (knee) and leading bench scorer Carmelo Anthony (back).

Vogel was able to press on, but he was asked Wednesday about the tenuous time as he prepared to coach a Pacers team that came into the night having lost 10 of its previous 11.

“It’s really not up to me whether it’s fair or not,” he said. “It comes with the territory, comes with being the Lakers coach. We have high expectations. This fan base really cares. It’s a big market, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, to be honest with you. I want people to care, I want people to want the best and to command excellence out of our group, that’s what we command of ourselves, that’s just the way it is.”

It was the second time this season that Vogel addressed questions about his job performance — a line of questioning that was almost invited by the Lakers after granting Vogel only a one-year contract extension in the offseason. The tepid financial commitment came despite the fact that Vogel’s playoff coaching record winning percentage, 18-9 (.667), puts him third in franchise history behind only Pat Riley (.685) and Paul Westhead (.684), and ahead of Phil Jackson (.652), who is fourth.

Vogel said Wednesday his interactions with the Lakers’ front office — namely vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka as well as senior basketball adviser Kurt Rambis — have been business as usual, even with L.A.’s recent struggles.

“I meet with our front office,” Vogel said. “We talk about the previous night’s game. Every game. All year. It’s been that way for three years. And it’s not been different this week or of late.”

Vogel characterized his relationship with the front office as “healthy” and said he’s been given no specific feedback about his job performance as L.A. has started the season at an underwhelming 22-22 (.500).

“Everyone is working together to leave no stone unturned in terms of getting this thing going in the right direction,” he said. “And we all have a great working relationship where we’re trying to figure out things together. We won a championship this way, and I feel good about our process.”

Vogel said the scrutiny is part and parcel to manning the sidelines for a team stocked with future Hall of Famers and expecting another title run.

“In this business, and with this team, if you’re not winning at a super high level, you’re going to get this type of noise,” he said. “I’m good at blocking that out. I feel good about the job that we’re doing.”

Vogel said the Lakers’ defensive execution against the Jazz should be a lesson to his team on what it can accomplish when it brings the requisite focus to a game. He said that he and his coaching staff will continue to tweak its schematic concepts and lineups on a game-to-game basis until Davis returns.

“I believe in what we can do this year,” he said. “So steadfastly remaining focused on the task at hand.”

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Chicago Bulls encouraged by Zach LaVine’s progress; Lonzo Ball’s status more uncertain

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Chicago Bulls guards Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball will not travel with the team for its upcoming road trip while each recovers from his respective knee injury, coach Billy Donovan said prior to Wednesday night’s 117-104 win against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It will leave the Bulls without their starting backcourt for at least the next three games. The Bulls begin a three-game road trip on Friday night in Milwaukee and do not return home until next Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors.

Neither LaVine nor Ball has played since Friday’s loss to the Golden State Warriors.

While Donovan said he is encouraged by how well LaVine’s left knee soreness is responding to treatment, he acknowledged Ball’s status is more uncertain.

Ball missed his third straight game Wednesday with what the Bulls have determined is a bone bruise in his left knee, but he did not respond well to the initial treatment, according to Donovan, who did not have a timetable for his return.

“Now they’ve switched to a different kind of treatment for him and they’ll see how that treatment works out,” Donovan said. “Then there’ll be another step after that if we need to be. Right now it’s more just trying to help him get healthy.

“When he was on the road with us and didn’t play in Boston, there was some treatment he was given, didn’t really respond great to that, met with a doctor, there’s another set of treatments going on right now. Then we’ll probably know more [once] we see how it responds to that.”

Donovan was asked whether surgery was a possibility for Ball — who is averaging 13 points, five rebounds and five assists in 35 games in his first season in Chicago — but he said “we haven’t gotten to that point.”

“A lot is gonna depend on how he responds to the treatment of what he’s getting right now,” Donovan said. “That’s why there’s a reason to get him back as soon as possible from Memphis, because you just don’t want to waste days for any player.”

LaVine has been sidelined since aggravating his knee in the first quarter against the Warriors, but he has been able to get back on the court for some light basketball activities. The Bulls are missing their second-leading scorer in LaVine, who is averaging 24.9 points on 49% shooting in 38 games this season. However, Donovan said they still want him to test out his knee running and jumping before he is cleared to return to the court.

“He has responded well,” Donovan said. “I don’t have a return date for him at this point, but certainly he feels a lot better today than he did coming out of Golden State.”

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Klay Thompson leads Golden State in scoring for first time since ACL injury as Warriors beat Detroit Pistons

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SAN FRANCISCO — Klay Thompson knew he needed to use the same patience he learned over the past 2½ years and apply it to his shot coming back. And for the most part, it looked to have paid off in the Golden State Warriors102-86 win over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night.

“Oh, yeah, no question,” Thompson said when asked whether his performance was his best since returning to the court. “Made some shots, made some tough shots on the move. … I was just happy to see the ball go through the rim.”

Thompson led the Warriors with 21 points on 6-of-13 shooting, including 3-of-8 from 3. It was the first time Thompson topped the team in scoring since posting 30 in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals — the game in which he tore his ACL. It also was his highest-scoring performance so far in his return and best by field goal percentage (46.2%).

“He’s getting his legs underneath him, for sure. He’s looking better and better, and his wind and conditioning has improved,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said.

Thompson is shooting 35.7% from 3 in his five games since returning from his 941-day hiatus. Most of his misses have been short, but as his legs get back underneath him, as Kerr says they are, the Warriors expect those shots to come back.

Neither Thompson nor his team has ever been concerned about his shot. It’s what he does. And until it completely returns, they’ll live with the misses.

“I don’t care if I miss 100 shots in a row, I’m never going to stop shooting the ball,” Thompson said. “I love it too much, and I work too hard not to.”

His favorite shot of the night was the last one he took in the first half: “a classic corner 3. Just a pump fake, side step, knock it down,” he said.

Since coming back, Thompson has added another dimension to his offense as a playmaker and rim attacker.

“Steve was just holding me back,” Thompson joked about not creating as many plays for others before this season.

According to Kerr, the Warriors didn’t previously need Thompson to be a facilitator, as he was playing alongside Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. But now, it’s something this current roster could use more of.

As for his increased efforts to attack the basket, Thompson takes it as a sign of good faith that his body is where it needs to be. He also said it has helped him get into rhythm as his shot from distance catches up.

Outside of Thompson having his best individual performance since returning over a week ago, the team believes it was the most cohesive they’ve played as a unit.

Particularly, the way Thompson and Curry played with each other. Curry finished with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc, reminiscent of the days when the Splash Brothers played together at Oakland’s Oracle Arena.

“It happens so fast. [Thompson] and [Curry] heat up so fast,” Golden State forward Andrew Wiggins said. “When they do, it’s damn near impossible to stop.”

In the third quarter, Curry went back to the locker room for several minutes after banging his left hand on a deflected ball. He returned with a bandage wrapped around his left middle finger — the opposite hand that held him out of the Warriors’ game at the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. Kerr doesn’t believe it’s anything serious.

Tuesday’s performance was the first piece of evidence for the Warriors that their patience so far has been paying off. But there’s more needed, as they wait at least two weeks for Draymond Green to return from a disk issue in his lower back and for Andre Iguodala to come back after sitting out against the Pistons.

But there is confidence that their patience will once again be worth the wait.

“I cannot wait for that day,” Thompson said.

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