John Paxson‘s reign of terror continues and its cease is nowhere in sight. Because of a made jumper in 1993, the now Vice-President of Basketball Operations has been at the wheel for 16 seasons and has hired 6 coaches with only 5 playoff series’ wins in that span. The latest of those coaches has turned a once proud organization into a punchline and we might be waiting awhile for their next playoff win.
The standard should be higher but it just isn’t. There are 6 banners hanging in the rafters and legitimately competing for more should be the only objective of the franchise. Paxson presides over the 4th richest team in the sport according to Forbes and the club is once again 3rd in home attendance this season. The front office has made some solid in-season moves this year when viewing the club in a vacuum but the overall direction of this rudderless ship is still in question.
Johnny Jumpshot dismissed the organization’s shoddy image and less than sterling reputation amongst the rest of the league during a couple of interviews on sports radio last week. The man is either delusional or thinks that fans and observers are. John’s middle name is aptly given as Macbeth, but unlike the play, there’s been nothing short about this flawed tenure. Shakespeare’s acclaimed work is about the damaging psychological effects of political power, similarly fans have suffered damaging psychological effects of being a Bulls’ observer under John Paxson. It’s unfortunate that he’ll seemingly be guaranteed “to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow.”
During the interview with The McNeil and Parkins Show last week, Paxson referenced the turnaround of the Chicago Bears in conjunction with discussing what the Bulls were currently attempting. It was worth a try evidently but the Bears did two things that Paxson’s organization seems aghast to do. First, ownership completely turned over the front office four years ago when they hired Ryan Pace and put him in charge of football operations. Secondly, Pace decided to put his nuts on the table not once but twice in trading for a potential franchise quarterback and again this summer for one of the best defensive players in the sport in Khalil Mack. In 16 years on the job, we can’t accurately derive Paxson as having that same gumption.
It’s often said that the Bulls front office is in the same boat as the structure with the White Sox over at 35th and Shields and I generally cringe when the executive branches are mentioned in unison. For all of their shortcomings, Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn brought the city a championship in 2005 and while that shouldn’t constitute a lifetime on the job, the credentials are inherently superior to those that inhabit the building at 1901 West Madison. During this year’s variation of Soxfest, Hahn reiterated to the masses that his rebuild would be a failure unless they were having a championship parade at the end of the process. While its likely conjecture and borderline pandering, it’s still refreshing to hear.
The Playoffs Are Not A Goal
Paxson doesn’t talk about parades and he definitely doesn’t see his team as a contender for a franchise altering star this off-season as he told multiple outlets and proved by trading for the contract of forward Otto Porter Jr. There is a decent foundation being built with the Bulls. The front office did well in the Jimmy Butler trade. They deserve credit for drafting Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. They also landed the best player in their trade deadline swap with the Wizards last week as well as being on the right side of some other minor transactions this season.
The duo known as GarPax has an equal number of misses on their resume but those transgressions don’t need to be identified presently. Paxson references the other two instances in which he has brought the Bulls back to prominence on a regular basis when defending his place in the organization. Pax built a try hard bunch of gritty collegians after taking over for Jerry Krause in 2003. He also deserves some credit for his “second rebuild” even though it had more to do with the hiring of coach Tom Thibodeau and some ping pong luck. Paxson’s track record of team building speaks for itself and there’s no doubt in my mind that he can replicate his past and build a #5 seed in the Eastern Conference.
It’s never been more apparent that in the National Basketball Association, a club needs stars plural to win a championship. The teams with the very best players in the sport are the ones left standing at the end. It’s a bit of a meritocracy and that has never suited the style of the Chicago Bulls’ top executive. He preaches fundamentals and hard work constantly and even bemoaned his team’s competitive spirit. This bunch never lacked a competitive spirit. What is severely lacking however is impact talent. Markkanen, Carter and even Zach LaVine have shown be useful players. None of them carries the weight of being the best player on a champion though.
Finding players capable of this burden is a task that this current front office has not shown to be up for. John Paxson doesn’t like to empower superstars or championship level coaches. That must change for this faux plan to work out. An argument can be made that it’s the perfect time for ownership to clean out the basketball department but with a full building and Jerry Reinsdorf’s relentless dismissal of public pressure, that solution doesn’t appear to be in the cards.
With a modicum opportunity to land a transcendent star via trade or on the free agent market in the offing, June’s draft becomes the only way out of this mess in the immediacy. The May 14th Draft Lottery is the most important day on the calendar for the Chicago Bulls. Zion Williamson appears to be the type of game-changing star that could unite the fanbase and kick the doors to the future wide open in the East. Lottery balls are the only thing that matters the rest of the season.
Finishing with a bottom three record in the sport, gives a team a 14% chance at securing the #1 overall pick. The Bulls currently sit with the 4th worst record which would give them a 12.5% chance at the top spot. In a race to the bottom, the bad Bulls might be too good. They may ultimately end up getting lucky but as John Paxson should know by now, getting lucky isn’t a plan.
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