A wasted opportunity
The last half of the 2010’s has not been kind to the Chicago Bulls. The once proud franchise has fallen into the very bottom trough of the NBA, with no clear motives in sight. The winter of discontent for Chicago Bulls fans, is in fact now, every winter. No more clearly was this signified than when the Bulls hosted All-Star weekend back in February. What should have been a way to show off the franchise and the greats connected to it, was instead a display for the inept culture built by John Paxson and Gar Forman, for the entire country to see.
Shaping a winner
As the countries third biggest media market, the Bulls still rely on the apex of Michael Jordan, which unfortunately is two decades behind us. Team owner Jerry Reinsdorf, and his son Michael, run their operation very private and close to the vest. This has some advantages, but unfortunately they have treated their large market team like a small market, when they shouldn’t have to. They like people they know, and any outsider, that maybe has a big new fancy idea, then it’s no deal. The Bulls have had two operations managers since 1985, in Jerry Krause and John Paxson. Two.
Paxson came on board in 2003 after a tumultuous turn of the millennium run where the Bulls cratered after the last three peat. He and front office puppet/General manager Gar Forman (colloquially known as “GarPax”) grabbed Kirk Hinrich in the 2003 draft, and with Ben Gordon, and Luol Deng picked up in 2004 (why do I always forget about him?) the team actually became a solid playoff threat, pushing future title winning teams into second round battles, thanks to gruff coaching accumen of Scott Skiles. (Remember when he tried to fight a rookie Shaq? That was funny.)
Remember when Derrick Rose wasn’t an injured prima donna?
In 2008, with a 1.8% chance to grab the number one pick, the grabbed Derrick Rose, which of course one three celled amoeba would have picked. He was paired with Joakim Noah and sneaky good late round pick Taj Gibson to become the backbone of team that became a borderline title contender while throwing haymakers at the turn of the decade Heatles. It needs to be noted that the Bulls led the league in wins from 2010-2012, and that lunch pail crew grabbed Chicago’s collective heart. That can’t be taken away. Man, how things change.
Rose blew out his knee in the spring of 2012, tried coming back, hurt it again…waited a whole off season, did the same thing again, hurt the other one slightly, acted like it was the end of the world, and basically held the franchise hostage from 2013-2015. The last thing a player with his mind bending athleticism needs is a litany of ravaging knee injuries, because he couldn’t really pass or shoot very well. It’s cool that he still is a journeyman and plays, but damn, not the brightest bulb in the shed.
Meanwhile the rest of the guys, mainly the front court stallions of Gibson, Noah, Deng, and not Carlos Boozer and his spray in hair, had the their knees driven into the ground by Tom Thibodeau playing them close to 36 minutes a night, REGARDLESS of the opponent. It’s not like other players need to develop, right?! Back to back in January against the T-Wolves? Sure! Afternoon game against the Knicks. Why not!
***Side Note: Bulls fans have really been frustrated since Thibs got canned in 2015 with the rebuild, but really it kind of started in that post Rose knee injury haze, when they top guys were still there, albeit with a lot of miles on their legs for 29/20 year olds, with a fresh young Jimmy Butler, but Rose kind of dawdling along, leaving the Bulls in limbo. It’s some on Rose, and a lot on GarPax.***
Let’s throw darts blindfolded and see what happens.
So by 2015 after Tom Thobideau had played his guys to a slow death, GarPax thought they had enough and dumped ole Thibs. Their erstwhile coaching “search”, focused on one guy, good ole Fred Hoiberg, a full time college coach whose personality did not jibe with NBA players as we would find out. Like as in, they didn’t listen to him. The Bulls hired him initially because he was going to “Spread out the team on offense!”, and then GarPax signed a past their primes Rajon Rondo and Dwayne Wade? What in the actual hell? Two guys who can’t shoot and are over 30?
They also drafted in 2014, and 2016 respectively Dougie McBuckets and Denzel Valentine? Because, we need more slow footed wing players! I get picking just outside the lottery is a crapshoot, but you’re not obligated to pick every guy who played 4 years of college because Kirk Hinrich freakin did it over a decade before. Hell they do better when they pick in the end of the first round, a la Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler, anyway.
Jim Boylen. Have you met Marc Trestman?
So after blowing up the team and selling off Jimmy “the worst leader I have ever seen from afar” Butler for basically “good stats on a bad team” shooting guard Zack LaVine, the Bulls front office let go of Hoiberg partway into the 2018 season, and we all cheered Hallelujah. But “just when you thought they couldn’t be any dumber, they go and do something like”…..bring in Jim Boylen!? (not to be confused with former assistant, Jim Boylan)
Some guys are meant to be quality assistants, and there is no harm in that. It would be different if he didn’t rub his players the wrong way, call odd timeouts, and subbed guys like he’s spinning the Wheel of Fortune wheel because you know “continuity”. Players converse and text and share their snapgrams, the whole league talks about this guy behind his back. I am in no way a basketball aficionado, but he ain’t it.
***A lot of fans frustrations recently, is having some nice players picked at no. 7 the past few years (Carter Jr, Lauri, Coby White) and the team is literally dragging itself along in neutral, as opposed to when Paxson nabbed Hinrich, Deng, etc. and taskmaster Scott Skiles got them rolling right away.
About, freaking, time.
Michael Reinsdorf casted a wide net towards young front office guys, which was amazing in itself that he finally realized like three years later, this needed to be a thing to happen. (It’s also crazy this is happening “during the season techncially). Arturas Karnisovas checked all the boxes for the front office, and his hire was looked upon very favorably by NBA media members, front office types, and “those in the know”. He helped build the Nuggets into a Western Conference power, and has excellent international scouting experience. He inherits a decent roster that maybe with the proper coach, a solid move here or there, should be able to compete for a playoff spot in the watered down Eastern Conference. Also of note, the Bulls haven’t doled out draft picks like Oprah hands out cars, so he will have some currency in the forthcoming years.
It’s now his show to run, from hiring a new GM and mercifully a new coach, to expanding scouting, etc. He will be taking Paxson’s position ,with Paxson moving to a senior “advisory” role”, which could be good or bad, depending on what Karnisovas needs to do, and how well Paxson has the ear of the Reisndorfs. With the bold move to get a fresh outside voice coming arguably three years too late, even if Pax is there, getting Forman and Boylen the hell away from there at the bare minimum will immediately change the culture. With the Blackhawks on their last legs kind of like the 2013 Bulls, now is the time to grab ahold of Chicagoans again.