Kar­niso­vas’ hire must be able to re-en­er­gize sev­eral play­ers, be­gin­ning with Markka­nen

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - JOE COWLEY jcow­ley@sun­times.com | @JCow­leyHoops

What he wants from his coach is sim­ple. Bulls ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of basketball op­er­a­tions Ar­turas Kar­niso­vas has been trans­par­ent about that.

“In terms of what we’re go­ing to be look­ing for, we’re go­ing to con­tinue fo­cus­ing on player de­vel­op­ment, an em­pha­sis on player de­vel­op­ment,’’ Kar­niso­vas said in the wake of coach Jim Boylen’s fir­ing less than two weeks ago. “Some­one who puts the re­la­tion­ship with play­ers first and is a good com­mu­ni­ca­tor. There are a lot of fac­tors go­ing on in terms of cri­te­ria that we’re look­ing at in a coach, but, again, those are the main ones.’’

So do they go first-time head coach, roll the dice from the col­lege ranks or look at some­one who has a more es­tab­lished head­coach­ing ré­sumé at the NBA level?

As­sis­tant coach Ime Udoka of the 76ers was said to be the early leader in the club­house, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral NBA scouts, and there have been no in­di­ca­tions that Udoka’s high stand­ing has changed, es­pe­cially with of­fi­cial in­ter­views still be­ing sched­uled.

Whomever they even­tu­ally de­cide on, player de­vel­op­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tion had bet­ter be his strengths. And that com­mu­ni­ca­tion has to be­gin with for­ward Lauri Markka­nen.

No player needed a change of front of­fice and coach more than Markka­nen.

For­get the stats last sea­son for the 7-footer. Ev­ery­one would like to. The real con­cern was that Markka­nen ended the sea­son pri­vately mak­ing it known that he didn’t like the di­rec­tion of the or­ga­ni­za­tion and wanted to be else­where if there wasn’t a change.

The good news is change did come, and it was sweep­ing.

With gen­eral man­ager Gar For­man and Boylen gone, the new coach has to be able to reach Markka­nen and get him back on the right path. There was a time — Fe­bru­ary 2019 — that he looked like an All-Star headed for “unicorn’’ sta­tus in the NBA.

“[Markka­nen] was dis­ap­pointed by the over­all re­sult,’’ Kar­niso­vas said ear­lier this off­sea­son. “Ev­ery player wants to win. He’s about win­ning, as well.

“Our ob­jec­tive is to get the best ver­sion of Lauri next year. We agreed in con­ver­sa­tions that this is our ob­jec­tive, and we’re go­ing to try to do it.’’

But Markka­nen is not the only Bull who needs fix­ing.

Den­zel Valen­tine

No player had big­ger is­sues with Boylen than the 2016 lottery pick (14th over­all). The two had Michi­gan State ties, but that’s where the con­nec­tion ended.

Boylen viewed Valen­tine as a “sys­tem player,’’ and Valen­tine saw Boylen as tem­po­rary.

But the swing­man is one of the more con­sis­tent three-point shoot­ers on the ros­ter and can score in bunches when he’s healthy and out of the dog­house.

A re­stricted free agent-to-be, Valen­tine could re­ceive a one-year qual­i­fy­ing of­fer for $4.7 mil­lion or the Bulls could let the mar­ket set a price for him, leav­ing them to de­cide if they want to keep him.

If he stays, a new coach­ing voice could res­ur­rect his ca­reer.

Wen­dell Carter Jr.

The sec­ond-year big man didn’t love how he was used in Boylen’s of­fense and also didn’t en­joy the prospect of be­ing a cen­ter in a power for­ward’s body for the rest of his ca­reer.

The lat­ter might not change for Carter any­time soon, even with a new coach, but get­ting touches in­stead of be­ing used as a “garbage man’’ will be wel­comed with open arms by the for­mer Duke stand­out. Year 3 for Carter isn’t make-or-break, but it is time for the new coach to iden­tify his ceil­ing.


Bulls for­ward Lauri Markka­nen got lost in for­mer coach Jim Boylen’s sys­tem this sea­son and wanted out by the end.

Wen­dell Carter Jr.


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