When Mile High Sports spoke to Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly prior to the season hiatus, he made a proclamation that is not to be taken lightly.
Even with all of the years Connelly has spent scouting and taking into account all of the people he has known in the world of basketball, he maintains that there is almost no one alive who can step into any gym in the world and be as respected as Nuggets’ general manager Arturas Karnisovas is.
That is just one of the reasons Karnisovas has climbed to the top of the Chicago Bulls list of candidates to lead their basketball operations department according to Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports.
According to the reporting done by Goodwill, the Bulls are looking to hire a lead executive who can check off a few very specific boxes.
First, Chicago is looking for an executive, “who has a presence publicly, especially given the reticent nature of Paxson and Forman the last several years”. As stated above, there are few people in the basketball world who are as respected as Karnisovas.
Chicago is also looking for an executive with a strong draft record and the ability to develop the young players that they select; both skills that Karnisovas has shown he has in spades.
Lastly, the Bulls want an executive who can expand their small team of scouts and be analytically forward which — surprise, surprise — is another strength in Karnisovas’ skill set.
The reason Karniosivas checks off so many boxes as a possible lead executive is because he has had to take an incredibly unique path to working in the National Basketball Association which has helped him develop skills that very few people have.
Karnisovas is a Lithuanian basketball legend and was also the first person from the Soviet Union to play college basketball in the United States of America when he joined Seton Hall despite not knowing any English. After his collegiate career, he attempted to gain interest from any NBA team, but failed to do so. That is when he went to play overseas and during his career he had stops in Spain, Italy, Greece and France as well as quite a bit of time with the Lithuanian National Team where he helped them win two bronze medals in the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games. In addition to his playing days, Karnisovas also worked for the NBA league office, was an international scout for the Houston Rockets, and directed the Adidas Eurocamp, which has since been disbanded and is now the NBA Elite International Camp.
If you somehow cannot already tell, Karnisovas has seen every corner of basketball across the globe which is big for his ability to build a strong scouting department as well as his ability to be a public figure to lead the Bulls into their next generation.
To add on just how productive Karnisovas has been, just take a look at what he has been able to do in his seven years with the Nuggets.
Back in 2013, Karnisovas was hired as Denver’s an assistant general manager and has since been promoted to general manager. But even with him working under Connelly for his entire tenure, Karnisovas has been involved in all of Denver’s most impactful decisions since the resurrection of the franchise. Denver went from a disaster to one of the most promising young rosters in the league and Karnisovas has his fingerprints on everything. He led the charge by spearheading the selection of Nikola Jokic in 2014, was a massive help in scouting international players of all kinds, and was the ideal complement to Connelly’s approach. (Karnisovas is said to be organized beyond belief and extremely stoic in his approach while Connelly is known to be a bit more energetic and imaginative.) Now the Nuggets have arguably their best chance at a NBA title that their organization has ever had and that would not be true if it wasn’t for Karnisovas’ contributions.
Simply stated, there are only a handful of executives who have the resume and experience of Karnisovas and even less of them are available to interview for open positions. That is why the Bulls interest in Karnisovas is far from surprising. He is factually one of the most qualified people to run a basketball operations department out there.
Connelly is understandably the face of the front office, but when you ask him what their secret has been to their growth over the past five seasons, Connelly will immediately begin praising his staff — most notably Karnisovas, but also assistant general manager Calvin Booth. The Nuggets have prided themselves on continuity and that does not only include the roster. Denver’s front office has been mostly untouched for the better part of five years and losing Karnisovas would be a shock to the system.
Still, Connelly has known for a long time that Karnisovas would inevitably be hired away, but that also means they have made contingency plans such as grooming Booth to be ready to step into the general manager role if needed.
Booth has been with the Nuggets since 2017 when he was hired to be their assistant general manager. Prior to his time with the Nuggets, he was a first a scout with the New Orleans Pelicans before taking a scouting position with the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he would work his way all the way up to director of player personnel. His ascension has been rapid, but also quiet. The Nuggets believe they have an up-and-coming executive in Booth and he has the full support of the Nuggets organization.
For now, only time will tell what the future holds. Karnisovas is deserving of being a lead decision maker for an NBA franchise and the Bulls seem to value him greatly, but anything can happen in this chaotic dream we call the National Basketball Association.