“This administration is going to be cussed and discussed for many years to come”
– Harry S Truman
When the greatest player of all-time decided to hang it up (for a second time), the Chicago Bulls spiraled into despair. After six championships in a decade, they had no one to look to for direction in a world without Michael Jordan. In 2003, long-time Bulls’ general manager Jerry Krause filed his resignation with the team; leaving the job for John Paxson. Paxson left his job as a national broadcaster to take the job as vice president of basketball operations for the Bulls alongside Gar Forman. Now entering their 13th season together in the management role, the two have failed to find the success expected of them. Between the choices of players in the NBA Draft, the unsuccessful hiring of head coaches and the lack of development as a team, the Chicago Bulls are in desperate need of change. While many other organizations would have made changes to their management, loyal owner Jerry Reinsdorf and his son Michael have stuck to their guns, leaving both Forman and Paxson to try and figure out the direction of the team.
Let us start with the head coaching hires. Since 2003, the Chicago Bulls have had six different head coaches under the same management duo of Forman and Paxson. Bill Cartwright, Scott Skiles, Jim Boylan, Vinny Del Negro, Tom Thibodeau, and now Fred Hoiberg have all had their shot at commanding one of the most attractive markets for the NBA and turning it into a winning organization. While historically the Chicago Bulls could be looked at as a successful franchise with six championships in the 90’s. Since the turn of the century, it has been nothing but false hope. While the head coaches alone didn’t cause this, it raises the question of “how many coaches do you have to go through before you find out that’s not the problem?” The management duo fired the Bulls’ most successful coach since The Zen Master himself over “differences in opinions” regarding the direction of the team. Adding insult to injury, they replaced him with a head coach with zero experience at the professional level, but a connection with management at the collegiate level. After the fifth head coaching change in 13 years, wouldn’t it make sense to start holding upper management accountable for failing even to approach the team achieved in Jordan’s prime? How many other organizations have let the same management team continue after replacing five different head coaches in 13 seasons? Just one, the Chicago Bulls.
The most recent casualty, Tom Thibodeau, is now the head coach for the young and thriving Minnesota Timberwolves. The same Thibodeau who lead the Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference in his first two years as head coach while finishing runner-up in the following three seasons. The 255-139 record stands as one of the most impressive since Phil Jackson. Despite his undeniable success, tensions formed between the Forman – Paxson front office and Thibodeau behind the bench. The issues surrounded Thibodeau’s refusal to change the way he coached his basketball team. Maybe they blamed him for the injuries caused to Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and even Jimmy Butler. Could it be a contributing factor that management did not like their starters playing unnecessarily heavy minutes? Thibodeau has been known to give his starters the bulk of the minutes; even in games where they held significant leads. It was not so much a surprise that Forman and Paxson grew tired of the lack of communication between the two sides, it was a let down that the Bulls took a significant step back. The only real success the Chicago Bulls had seen since Jordan was when Tom Thibodeau was doing it his way.
If the head-coaching conundrum wasn’t enough, the Chicago Bulls historically have not drafted well. It seems the Bulls were content to stay consistent with their draft strategy, targeting contributing bench players. While there are a few outliers to this (Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah), historically the Bulls draft picks haven’t stayed in the league, let alone on the team, long enough to make a significant difference. One of the worst trades in NBA Draft history came in 2006 when the Bulls swapped #2 pick LaMarcus Aldridge for #4 pick and head case Tyrus Thomas. The Bulls also received a conditional 2nd round pick and Viktor Khyrapa. As you can tell only one player has seen success in the NBA. Still not convinced? Do the names Marcus Teague, Tony Snell, or James Johnson ring any bells? Forman and Paxson can take credit for drafting Derrick Rose, but it was a no brainer give Rose’s ties to the city. However you view The past drafts, one thing is clear. The Bulls’ didn’t build for the success of the future; rather they moved deck chairs on the Titanic by shuffling role players in and out to surround guys like Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. The recent two first round picks in 2015-16, Bobby Portis, and Denzel Valentine could be the only saving graces for Chicago’s front office.
Considering the underwhelming draft picks over the last decade and the constant change in coaching the front office must have landed big-time free agents to compete, right? Wrong. Let’s go to the history books. 2010. One of the biggest classes for free agency in recent history. The Chicago Bulls had plenty of money to spend, pursuing the likes of Dwayne Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, and more. After it was all over, the Bulls ended up with Carlos Boozer. 2013-2014 Carmelo Anthony considered heavily coming to Chicago, but after Derrick Rose missed a dinner with Anthony and the Bulls’ front office Melo was out. The Chicago Bulls are unable to recruit big time free agent talent in the midst of their prime. They got Ben Wallace, Pau Gasol, Rajon Rondo and even Dwayne Wade, all well after their primes. Did players question having to follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan? Was it mismanaged recruiting behind closed doors? It all adds up to balance slightly between the two. Most importantly, the Bulls built a roster composed of overpaid, aging, former stars.
While it seems to be impossible to compete for a shot at the NBA Finals when LeBron James still plays in Cleveland, building towards the future is what fans hoped for after the season was over. Even before the NBA Draft. “Younger, more athletic,” they said. Beloved hometown kid Derrick Rose found his way to the Big Apple in a trade and they let Joakim Noah join him in free agency. Meanwhile, they flirt with the idea of a possible full rebuild by dangling Jimmy Butler in trade consideration. The NBA Draft passes, and they select AP Player of the Year Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. The Bulls continue to show fans they are sticking to what they said. Then July hits, the Bulls sign 30-year-old point guard Rajon Rondo and follow that up with 36-year-old Dwayne Wade. “Older, more outspoken” is what we got.
Whether or not the Chicago Bulls front office figures out their plan for the future, the present gear is stuck in neutral. Playing for a chance to make the playoffs, hoping to put fans in seats and sell the idea that a combination of Butler, Wade, and Rondo is enough to be something special. Find a way to make the DeMarcus Cousins rumors a reality, otherwise, sit back and enjoy another season of mediocrity. Oh boy.