When ESPN reported last week that the Bulls had started their search for an executive with full authority on basketball decisions, Bulls fans were so overjoyed, they risked their health by hugging anyone and everyone not named “Jim Boylen.’’
Some of what was in the story had been reported before, but the fan base would celebrate an old couch right now, as long as vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman were sitting on it and it was being lowered into a landfill. Such has been the disgust around here. The possibility of the two men fading into the background sounded like the beginning of the end of a long nightmare. With it was the assumption that Boylen, the coach with the strange ways and means, would be gone soon.
If there are NBA executives who are interested in the Bulls job, it’s a guarantee that they’re not interested in what the organization is now.
If they’ve truly looked at the roster, they’re not even interested in what the Bulls could be. They’re interested in what the Bulls should be.
We’ll take that, for starters.
The franchise should be better than this, should have been for quite a while. No doubt there’s some parochialism in that sentiment, but this is the team that Michael Jordan built and this is a city that should be a destination for players. At a bare minimum, it shouldn’t be a city that players automatically rule out, something that has happened too often with superstar free agents the last two decades.
Perhaps we still have a contact high from those six championships of long, long ago. But delusions of grandeur? No, none of that. We’re being offered a flicker of hope. It sure would be nice to have a team that matters again. That’s all.
The concern is that the Bulls are the Bears, who have failed to hire the right decision-makers again and again because the people deciding on the decision-makers don’t know what they’re doing. If Paxson, who hasn’t won a title in his 17-year career as a Bulls exec, is involved in any way in hiring the person to run the operation, there’s a chance the hamster wheel will keep spinning.
If the Bulls retain Paxson (and possibly Forman) in some capacity, as reports suggest they will, the message will be that mediocrity is still the coin of the realm. Bulls fans already have received that message loud and clear over the years. But what about the person the team hires to oversee the operation? What message will he receive if Paxson is still around? Actually, there will be two messages — that the Bulls value loyalty and relationships over winning, and that the new man can feel free to make himself comfortable because he has a job for life.
So it’s difficult to get too enthused about the possibility of change here. You’d like for the Bulls to be relevant again, but if the cause (Pax) and effect (Gar) of their irrelevancy are still employed . . . tell me again how this is going to work?
But let’s suspend skepticism and just believe for a second. Let’s believe that the Bulls get the right man, whether it’s Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas, Raptors GM Bobby Webster, Heat assistant GM Adam Simon or someone else. Wouldn’t that be great? With the pandemic dominating life, this isn’t a bad time to believe in something, anything.
In some corners, the perception is that the Bulls have several valuable young players. This might even be true, but 65 games of Coby White are not enough to say anything definitive about him or the team’s future. Lauri Markkanen, once a certain building block, is a question mark.
If the Bulls get the executive right, they have a chance to get the coach right. That’s the first, most exciting aspect of what the Bulls are (hopefully) in the process of doing. If they hire a leader who knows what he’s doing, then there’s a decent chance he’ll find a coach who can make players better. What an interesting concept.
Pacers general manager Chad Buchanan reportedly has taken his name out of consideration for the Bulls job, and the knee-jerk reaction is to see that as a red flag. Indiana’s No. 2 guy turned down the chance to be Chicago’s No. 1 guy? Uh-oh.
But we’re not going there. At least the Bulls are pursuing change. That’s a massive development, one that didn’t seem possible even a year ago.
That it took so long for the Bulls to act on the realization they needed to “modernize’’ their basketball operations should be an indictment. But there’s no time for that, not when there’s celebrating to do.
What are the odds they’ll get the right man? Now why did I have to go and ask that?