clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Bulls GM Gar Forman had a slow rise to power and an even slower demise

Forman could do no wrong when he was named the team’s GM in 2009. By the time 2011 had come and gone, he was the NBA Executive of the Year. By 2012, however, the missteps began, and a seat built on paranoia and mistrust eventually led to his downfall. The demise of Forman has been slow, but it’s all but complete now.

The influence of Bulls general manager Gar Forman appears to be diminishing.
The influence of Bulls general manager Gar Forman appears to be diminishing.
Christian K. Lee/AP

The question was met with a wave of the hand.

Not a good wave, either.

The dismissive kind. The motion that belittles a person’s standing, as if they no longer matter.

“Scouting in Siberia,’’ a member of the Bulls organization joked two weeks ago.

And just like that the question was answered.

Where has Bulls general manager Gar Forman been the last few months?

More importantly, that question and answer symbolized what has been a slow burn felt throughout the organization for almost a year. That Forman, hired to that post in 2009, was all but done. His demise finally a reality, and mostly because of his own doing.

The NBA Executive of the Year for the 2011 season has been reduced to a lead scout. Hidden from media interactions for months, with his actual job duties more mystery than transparency.

Duties that will be coming to an end once the coronavirus shutdown is lifted off the league, and Bulls COO Michael Reinsdorf can get back to the business of restructuring his front office in what is expected to be the biggest overhaul in franchise history.

The Sun-Times was the first to break the story of Reinsdorf’s plans over the All-Star weekend, and while sources have told the newspaper as of last week that there was still some uncertainty of what role current vice president of basketball operations John Paxson will play in all of this, Forman will have absolutely no seat at the decision-making table, only keeping the GM title warm for his successor.

The days of disgruntled fans chanting “Fire Gar/Pax’’ can come to an end.

That’s because the “Gar’’ has already been removed.

Forman’s rise through the Bulls was not a quick one. Then again, because of his reputation he had in the wake of a scandal at New Mexico State from his college days, it shouldn’t have been a quick one.

Forman joined the Bulls as a scout in 1998, working his way up the ladder from director of player personnel to special assistant, and then finally landing his white whale – GM in 2009.

His timing was impeccable, but so was the initial job he did in his new post. Of course landing Derrick Rose in a 2008 draft lottery that the team only had a 1.7 percent chance of hitting on was beyond lucky, but championship teams are built on luck.

Other pieces were needed and Forman provided those.

Forman not only helped in the hiring of Tom Thibodeau, but was behind the scouting of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, and then as GM hit big on Jimmy Butler – maybe the best pick of his tenure.

The Bulls were winning, the United Center was still one of the toughest tickets in town, the money was flowing, and damn right the Reinsdorfs were happy.

If first impressions are everything, Forman connected on a homer with the first pitch he saw.

Then 2012 came, and in the wake of Rose’s organizational-changing knee injury, Forman would have to finally deal with adversity. If adversity measures the true worth of a person, it wasn’t long before Forman was exposed.

The drafting of Marquis Teague was catastrophic on many levels. First, because Thibodeau wanted Draymond Green and was vetoed, and secondly, because Forman was actually talked into the pick by Kentucky coach John Calipari. A fact that the higher-ups have admitted to happening.

But it was behind the scenes that Forman started to misplay his hand.

He quickly gained the reputation as a guy that was paranoid, turning his focus to keeping his job rather than doing his job.

That meant inserting “spies’’ throughout the entire organization, as the Sun-Times documented back in 2017 with then assistant GM/coach Randy Brown being identified as one of many. Brown denied the allegation to the paper, but former Bull Rip Hamilton came out days later and confirmed the suspicions around Brown.

Forman was also into the practice of confiscating the phones and computers of employees, looking for leaks or negative comments about him.

While Thibodeau had his obvious disagreements with Paxson, both knew where they stood with each other. Forman, however, played both sides of the fence, telling Thibodeau one thing, but bad-mouthing the coach to the players.

Even Paxson grew distrustful of Forman after he heard how Forman would go on these scouting trips and blame organizational mistakes on Paxson, doing everything he could to wipe the weapon clean of his fingerprints. The Sun-Times reported that story several times.

So how Forman stay employed?

Paxson, Thibodeau, and the players all knew one very important thing at the end of the day: As long as Forman had chairman Jerry Reinsdorf in his corner he was a made man. Untouchable even to Paxson.

One problem: Even untouchable has an expiration date.

The firing of Thibodeau was signed off on by Jerry Reinsdorf. A year before that was stamped, however, there were already rumors that Forman was recruiting Fred Hoiberg from Iowa State to be the next head coach.

The entire locker room knew that Forman operated that way.

Butler was hoping his loyalty would be treated differently. When he laid out his plans of how he wanted to stay in Chicago and recruit a championship-level team, he finished the presentation feeling like Forman was on board. So off to Europe he went, hoping the likes of Kyrie Irving or Kyle Lowry would be Bulls.

Within a few days, Butler wasn’t even a Bull, traded to the Timberwolves as the rebuild was underway.

That’s why Butler’s then-trainer Travelle Gaines immediately tweeted out that he “met drug dealers with better morals then their GM. He is a liar and everyone knows [it].’’

Butler then came out to the Sun-Times and voiced his displeasure with Forman, reiterating he felt lied to.

Letting Noah walk and trading Rose the year before raised some eyebrows with other NBA players. The well-liked Butler ripping into the GM, however?

Any small hope of game-changing free agents ever becoming a Bull had the final nail driven into the coffin.

As for the moves Forman made in getting to where the Bulls currently stand? The Butler trade has proven to be catastrophic, while life with Thibodeau has made the organization nothing but lottery dwellers.

What hit home with Jerry Reinsdorf earlier this season, however? The United Center had way more empty seats and the fan base was watching less and less.

The final straw, though, seemingly came in November, when the Sun-Times reported that former players were very angry when they felt Forman was aloof toward them when the Bulls honored Luol Deng at a home game.

Word got back to Jerry Reinsdorf, and the man that has always had Forman’s back was now done handing out life preservers.

Since then, Forman has been even more absent than usual, both at the United and Advocate Centers.

The Sun-Times initially reported that even with the front office restructure coming, Forman could be kept on as a lead scout or thrown a new title, but that even seems to no longer be in play.

The days of Forman and his cohorts lurking throughout the organization are all but done.

His title is months, maybe weeks, away from officially being stripped.

And unless there actually is NBA talent that needs “scouting in Siberia,’’ the demise of Forman is all but complete.