John Paxson

John Paxson delivered transparency, not Brazilian music


John Paxson delivered transparency, not Brazilian music

It’s what every fan base deserves, along with players on a roster where tough conversations must be had to set a course for the present in order to secure a better future.


It’s ugly and while not aesthetically pleasing to the eye, everyone can see what the Bulls are doing for the remainder of the NBA season. For the paying customers who still fill the seats at the United Center, it’s a “cry now so hopefully you laugh later” proposition.

Bulls Executive-Vice President John Paxson addressed the media Tuesday and said what we all knew to be true, what everyone knew what was coming.

He didn’t stand up in front of cameras and tape recorders and ask, “Do you like Brazilian music?”

They’re tanking.

They’re putting a little bit more sugar to go with it but it’s old-fashioned ‘tussin for the next several weeks.

All of this is due to sight unseen—unless you watch college basketball or cue up European basketball highlights.

When you see Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson take two hard dribbles from the top of the key, spin and dunk while being fouled, it makes sense.

When Arizona’s DeAndre Ayton help on a driving guard to cut off a lane, recover to block a 3-point shot and run the floor for a layup in a six-second span, it makes sense.

When Duke’s Marvin Bagley III seals his defender with one arm, catches with his left hand and finishes on the opposite side of the rim with ease, it all makes sense and kudos to the Bulls for not trying to fool a smart public with useless rhetoric.

Every loss counts, of course, but the key thing about the NBA is this: No matter where a team picks, bad franchises make the worst of a good opportunity and good franchises make the best of any situation.

If the Bulls are the latter, it’ll show itself whether they pick fourth or second or sixth. This draft’s best player went 13th, Donovan Mitchell from the Utah Jazz. Lauri Markkanen is in competition for best player after Mitchell and he went seventh.

This was inevitable from the moment the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler on draft night. Although Kris Dunn has turned out to be a revelation and Markkanen could be a superstar, none of the micro wins should take away from the macro vision of this franchise, chief reason why Paxson has reasserted himself in the last year.

Paxson just framed it in the vein of long-term evaluation in announcing Cristiano Felicio and David Nwaba will replace veterans Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday in the starting lineup, while Jerian Grant will see his playing time cut for Cameron Payne.

“Seeing some of our young guys play consistently, we’ve learned a lot about them,” Paxson said. “The hard thing when you do things like this is you’re asking certain people to sacrifice roles and minutes. And oftentimes, it’s veteran guys. That’s what we’re asking some of our vets to do right now—sacrifice some time on the floor and roles they’ve been very good in. That’s never an easy thing.”

Lopez and Holiday have been good soldiers through this process, especially helping navigate a fragile locker room after the crazy start to the season when Bobby Portis had enough of Nikola Mirotic in a practice and unleashed holy hell on a season that was supposed to be a quiet, boring losing season.

“I know what it’s like to be asked to take a lesser role,” Paxson said. “Players have pride. So it’s hard. I don’t take that lightly at all. It’s just the position we’re in as a young team, 20-37 with a lot of young guys and several who we haven’t really had the chance to see play much this year. For us to make the proper evaluation in terms of who fits us moving forward, this is something we have to do.”

Lopez has had a solid season, with career-highs in scoring and assists. Holiday’s scoring has nearly doubled this season and he’ll garner some attention around the draft in the trade market.

But with the Bulls being eighth of the eight bad teams, they need to get Super Bad (with a nod to James Brown) in the next several weeks. It’s not that the rebuild is steps ahead, it’s that other teams are better at being incompetent than the Bulls—and they’ll also be doing whatever’s necessary to secure a draft position.

At least the Bulls’ competence has come in the form of long-term answers. Certainly at the end of the year, one can lament Zach LaVine saving the Bulls from losses to the Timberwolves and Magic with late-game plays that cements the belief he could be a front-facing player—especially with restricted free agency coming this summer.

If Payne happens to be a useful NBA player in the process, it’s gravy but the Bulls aren’t really expecting it.

Fred Hoiberg has been pumping up Payne publicly by referencing him playing the role of Isaiah Thomas in the playoff preparation last spring, but he hasn’t played NBA level basketball in over a year.

And when he was on the floor, for that ill-fated period after last year’s deadline when Hoiberg was playing 11 guys without a real plan to win, Payne looked overmatched and overwhelmed.

“We want to see him as a point guard, especially when you’re running with the second unit, and the way Fred wants to play, play with pace, defend your position, compete every night and stay within yourself,” Paxson said. “His role is to get us into offense quickly and efficiently and make the right play with the ball.”

Felicio has taken a step back in terms of his development after steady improvement over the last two years, but in the big picture they’re casualties in the NBA’s cost of doing business.

And if you believe it’s anything else besides what you’re seeing, you might believe Paxson is truly asking if you like Brazilian music.

Nikola Mirotic pulled from practice, left Bulls facility before hesitating to agree to Pelicans trade

Nikola Mirotic pulled from practice, left Bulls facility before hesitating to agree to Pelicans trade

The Bulls and Pelicans had a deal involving Nikola Mirotic early Tuesday afternoon, both sides being so sure of things Mirotic was pulled off the practice floor.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg talked to Mirotic, and Mirotic left the Advocate Center believing his time with the Bulls was over. 

But before the deal sending Mirotic to New Orleans and bringing Omer Asik and a first-round pick to the Bulls could be finalized, Mirotic hesitated, according to multiple sources. 

And that's where he stands now, in a moment of pause as he contemplates waiving his no-trade clause for a fresh start. 

It's certainly complicated and to large measure, out of the Bulls' hands. Mirotic wants to ensure he pockets his $12.5 million for next season, but the small-market Pelicans have big money committed to franchise cornerstone Anthony Davis, guard Jrue Holiday and want to retain DeMarcus Cousins for the foreseeable future. 

Mirotic is with the Bulls in Portland as they begin their three-game west swing and understandably, doesn't want to forfeit his Bird Rights in a deal that won't have his team option picked up--at least by the appearance of things. 

The Bulls have been searching for a suitor for Mirotic after having talks with the Utah Jazz, Mirotic's preferred destination. The Bulls are enamored with Jazz swingman Rodney Hood but the Jazz aren't willing to part with Hood, and the Bulls are sticking firm to at least receiving a cost-controlled first round pick in this sunmer's star-studded draft. 

Then with Cousins' Achilles injury last week, a need opened for the Pelicans and oppprtunity appeared for the Bulls. 

The Bulls thought they had a deal that crossed off several requirements--notably Asik's $3 million buyout after the 2018-19 season, and now one wonders what kind of awkward existence there will be in the meantime between the two parties.

After all, Mirotic made it known he wanted to be a starter and no longer wishes to be in Chicago, especially after his incident with Bobby Portis before the start of the regular season. 

The Bulls and Mirotic have navigated that turbulence, with Mirotic playing the best basketball of his career and the Bulls wanting to grant his wishes. 

Bulls executive Vice President John Paxson has been clear since taking more of the reins, that any Bull that doesn't want to be a Bull will be accommodated. 

But Mirotic put another snag in that plan with his hesitation over his future, considering there's so many unknowns with the Pelicans and their cap situation. 

And now, the Bulls and Pelicans are waiting on Mirotic's answer--as the clock is rapidly ticking on this uneasy relationship.

Bulls will stay conservative with Zach LaVine

Bulls will stay conservative with Zach LaVine

The next phase of the Zach LaVine rehabilitation program is days away.

The one where he where actually ... plays.

LaVine, after his prodding to make his debut on the Madison Square Garden stage fell on deaf ears, will play his first game in a Bulls uniform Saturday night against the Detroit Pistons.

In a bit of irony, LaVine tore his ACL last February against the Pistons in Auburn Hills, and he’ll make his return 344 days from that evening.

“I was pushing to play two months ago, but the decision was made for it to be Saturday,” LaVine said Tuesday at practice. “I'm a ballplayer, man. I think we talked about this. I want to be out there, and I want to be able to play. I want to thank all the training staff and coaches, the medical staff in Minnesota as well, getting me back to this point. it was a lot of hard work, lonely nights and long days. This thing is taking forever. Finally back to it, and I'm happy for that.”

LaVine will be under a strict 20-minute limit that the front office and coaching staff will meet upon to discuss how his time will be disseminated. Bulls executive vice president John Paxson addressed the media before LaVine to make the announcement and lay out the plan.

It hasn’t been determined whether he’ll start or come off the bench initially, but one would think it’s only a matter of time before he makes his way to the first five.

“I'm OK with everything. I gotta be okay with that,” LaVine said. “That's where you start, I know it's not gonna stay there. It's just part of getting back. Even though I'm back it's the last part of me getting back with the little bit of restriction. I'll do the best I can.”

LaVine was flashing a smile when talking to the media, clearly ready to begin the next step in his career. He said he had butterflies at the possibility and will have to calm himself down before Saturday night.

“Just gotta try to go out there and do what you're used to doing,” LaVine said. “Obviously I'm going to be anxious like I said. Adrenaline is gonna be rushing, crowd is gonna be into it. Team is gonna be loving it. It's gonna be a good feeling, You just gotta learn how to calm that and get back to playing the game you love.”

Paxson said LaVine will be under the 20-minute restriction from Saturday until the All-Star break and that LaVine will not play in the second half of the lone back-to-back the Bulls have between now and then.

In a bit of secondary irony, the front end of that set is against the Minnesota Timberwolves, where Jimmy Butler will make his return to Chicago on Feb. 9. LaVine won’t play the next night, a home game against the Washington Wizards.

“The idea will be, as we go week to week, considering no setbacks and he's doing well, we’ll marginally ramp up his minutes as each week goes by and see how he’s doing,” Paxson said. “Our mindset is this is still part of the rehab for Zach. He needs to play. No matter what you do in practice, he needs those game minutes. So we’re going to give him those game minutes now.”

LaVine initially believed he would be back in mid-December, then thought he could play around Christmas. Clearly the Bulls, be it prudence or a function of their unexpected winning that has vaulted them from the dungeon of the Eastern Conference, decided to keep him out a little while longer.

Considering this franchise’s recent history with that particular injury, the Bulls weren’t going to be party to any rushing back for any reason. But make no mistake, unleashing their prized player in the Butler trade on draft night gives them a jolt of excitement.

“First of all, you have to understand what he’s been through. He had a significant injury 11 months ago. And he’s worked really, really hard to get back to play,” Paxson said. “We’ve seen players go through this before. The commitment they make to get back is significant. Most people don’t see what they go through. He has really embraced it and took it on. I know he’s excited to play. I’m sure we’re going to have to rein him in with his enthusiasm. We’re looking forward to having him. He’s obviously a key component of the trade that we made. We’re happy that he’s back.”

LaVine doesn’t expect to be the same player immediately upon his debut, the one who averaged nearly 20 points a game last season as a third option in 47 games in Minnesota.

But he does have a stake in this, as a restricted free-agent-to-be this summer, to show he’s worth a max contract or whatever he’ll command on the open market.

“At the end of the day, this game is business. You’re judged on how you perform,” LaVine said. “If I go out there, like I said, the 20-minute restriction won’t be for the rest of the season, if I go out there and perform the way I should, the way the team knows I should perform, I’ll be OK. I think I put enough hard work to not be scared about anything. I’m very confident in my game and excited to get out there. I know what I can do.”