SALT LAKE CITY — The Bulls’ two-headed snake of vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman eventually was going to start devouring itself.
Well, feeding time might have started.
According to several league sources, Forman has been making it known that he hasn’t been responsible for the Bulls’ slow fall from the NBA elite in recent seasons. And while he hasn’t been pointing the finger at Paxson, he has been trying to wipe his own fingerprints off the mess.
It’s self-preservation at its finest.
‘‘It’s not about Gar staying over Paxson [in Chicago],’’ one source said. ‘‘It’s about looking good for that next job.’’
That’s because Forman knows he can’t win a power struggle against Paxson. Paxson is one of chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s favorite sons, and Reinsdorf’s loyalty to the front office is as close to a lifetime commitment as there is in sports.
So while it’s likely that Paxson and Forman are safe for now, the spotlight of a 26-21 season has to shine on them.
The question is, will Forman step into that light or scurry under the refrigerator? If the last week is any indication, he’ll do the latter.
Coach Fred Hoiberg has faced the same questions from the media daily. Bulls players have done their best to explain why a team that was said to have a ‘‘championship roster’’ is wallowing in mediocrity.
Surely, the supposed architect of this team would welcome some accountability. After all, it was Forman who said the Bulls had a ‘‘championship roster’’ shortly after former coach Tom Thibodeau was fired.
That hasn’t been the case, though. Forman has a track record of being good about returning text messages, even if it’s a simple ‘‘No comment.’’ Suddenly, that isn’t true anymore.
Forman was texted two questions. The first was: ‘‘Are there concerns that, if things don’t finish well this season, the focus from ownership turns on you guys in the front office?’’
Considering that Forman was nestled up to Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf in the stands throughout the loss Monday to the Utah Jazz, maybe the answer was there for everyone to see.
Second, Forman was asked: ‘‘Have there been any statements made by the Reinsdorfs that this had better work?’’
It’s an important question because there have been indications on both sides. There was some thought early that paying $9 million to let Thibodeau go and hiring Hoiberg did put Forman on the hook. But others have said the Reinsdorfs will address the roster next in trying to fix the Bulls’ growing dysfunction.
‘‘It’s become very obvious that Thibodeau wasn’t the main problem,’’ a source said.
In fact, in Thibodeau’s relationships with Paxson and Forman in recent years, the source said Thibodeau had more respect for Paxson, even though they didn’t speak with one another.
‘‘Tom knew where he stood with Pax,’’ the source said. ‘‘Gar would come into Tom’s office with a smile on his face and a poisoned apple in his hand.’’
So how will the Paxson/Forman saga end? That’s the growing question. But Forman is doing his best to come out of the situation squeaky-clean.
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