Bulls

Bulls mailbag: Status of the front office search? John Paxson and Gar Forman's roles?

Bulls mailbag: Status of the front office search? John Paxson and Gar Forman's roles?

When can Bulls overhaul their front office? Do the playoffs have to be completed? Will any interviews or hires not happen now until August or September? - @ashamedbullsfan, via Twitter

First, that’s a pretty amazing Twitter handle. Second, this is one of many, many subplots to the great unknown the NBA is experiencing.

The Bulls can ask for permission to interview candidates whenever they want. In fact, with the league ground to a halt, this could be an opportunity for Michael Reinsdorf. I’d guess he’d show some initial sensitivity to the unprecedented nature of this situation. However, the league will be idle for awhile. So he could begin to act after seeking input from a wide variety of sources on a wide variety of candidates. As previously reported, he is doing this search solo for now. But everything is in flux. Nobody knows when the season will resume, much less when the draft will be.

Regarding the front office changes, are there any more names of candidates and roles? - Tim G.

This is about building depth and youth in a front office that has fallen behind the times. This is about modernizing the front office, and, as previously reported, the specific structure has yet to be determined. The only thing that’s certain is that the organization wants to build depth and get more modern.

The Sam Presti situation has been previously covered in this space. A brief recap: There’s no guarantee he would want to leave the Thunder. And even if he would, the Bulls historically haven’t spent the upwards of $8, $9 or $10 million it would take to land him. He’d also almost certainly want to bring some of his close associates, so it would actually cost more. Obviously, if Presti and the Bulls show mutual interest and the Bulls display a willingness to pay, things could change.

But my focus has been more on the Bulls making multiple hires and targeting respected No. 2s or young executives who are considered on a rising trajectory. This isn’t a short list. But it’s an instructional one. Think people like the Pacers’ Chad Buchanan, the Nuggets’ Arturas Karnisovas, the Heat’s Adam Simon, the Jazz’s Justin Zanik, the Clippers’ Michael Winger, the Thunder’s Troy Weaver and Nazr Mohammed, the Warriors’ Mike Dunleavy, the Raptors’ Bobby Webster, the Magic’s Matt Lloyd. I’m sure there are others.

Are the Reinsdorfs aware of the national and local perception of their team? It seems like everyone is frustrated with this franchise except the people in charge. Why should fans trust them to do anything proactive? @BullDumb, via Twitter

Man, the Twitter handles today. I’ve written this before, but just watch Michael Reinsdorf during a game. He was sitting courtside at the March 8 game in Brooklyn against the Nets and he reacted to several plays — good and bad — with the emotion of a longtime season-ticket holder. They’re aware of the perception, and they’re frustrated.

It should be noted that even though some fans have been frustrated for awhile, this is the first season where internally they’ve felt matters strayed. The decision to trade Jimmy Butler was a collective one, and the franchise knew it would involve an initial step backwards. This is the season, both publicly and privately, the organization pointed towards as one where progress would be tangible. And their offseason moves drew widespread praise.

That the Bulls endured another underwhelming, injury-filled season is why the offseason changes are coming. And they’re coming, whether you trust them to be or not.

What will John Paxson and Gar Forman be doing once the front office overhaul is complete? – Tom T.

That’s a big TBD. As previously reported, Paxson initiated a lot of the talks for this change and will play as big or as small a role as is viewed necessary by ownership and the most significant new hire. Forman has been busy scouting. In fact, he was at a conference tournament to cap an extremely busy stretch of travel for him when COVID-19 shut down the sports world. He’s valued internally for his scouting and likely will be asked to stay on in that role if he chooses.

Has Zach LaVine reached his ceiling in your opinion? – Joe M.

This is obviously a subjective question, and there are subtle ways to assess it. But I think this season proved he can grow at both ends. His decision-making improved. His off-the-ball defense initially improved before showing some recent slippage. Jim Boylen challenged him to become a better two-way player, and LaVine always puts in tons of offseason work on his own. I think there’s another level he can reach.

My 12- and 9-year-olds are currently doing their e-learning for school. They were wondering which Bulls player would make a great teacher. - Michelle S.

First, this lands on the short list for best question I’ve ever received. And I’ve been doing Bulls mailbags since 1996.

I’ve been fortunate to cover plenty of extremely smart athletes. The 2003-04 season may have been a tough one on the court as John Paxson began to shape the team in his vision after taking over for Jerry Krause. But off it, it was a revelation for me as I got to talk basketball daily with Scottie Pippen away from the media masses. I had covered Pippen during the second three-peat and always found his basketball IQ to be extremely high. But there was so much media around those teams that I didn’t get the more intimate breakdown I did during that 2003-04 season. What a treat to talk basketball with him one-on-one on more days than not.

Mike Dunleavy is another player who always saw the game in an educational manner and distilled it well in interviews.

I assume you’re asking about current players. I’d have to say Thad Young. Not only is he a 13-year veteran, but he’s very honest and forthright in his comments.

Who’s been your favorite Bulls player you have ever covered? - Hamza B.

I’ve said and written this before, but it’s Joakim Noah. Again, I’m lucky to have covered a lot of very interesting and cool athletes. But Noah to me combined a wonderful mixture of worldliness, honesty, passion, humor, intelligence and accessibility. You can’t ask for much more as a beat writer.

Is there any chance Derrick Rose can come back home and win us a championship, possibly (an) MVP again? Lisa C., via Twitter

Never say never, but the combination of a return home, a title and an MVP is about as close as it gets.

As a reporter, what one player do you want the Bulls to sign, and why? - David L.

Giannis in 2021. Because I enjoy watching greatness. And I notice you didn’t ask anything about the feasibility of such a scenario.

Thanks for all your questions. Talk to you soon.

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NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

NBA, NBPA announce zero positive COVID-19 tests from inside Disney bubble

In the first round of testing announced since the NBA began playing official restart games on July 30, there's more good news.

Of the 343 players tested for COVID-19 since the last results were announced on July 29, there remains zero positive tests. This is the third round of testing results made public in a joint statement from the NBA and NBPA, whose strict safety protocols appear to be working. Teams have now been in the so-called "bubble" on the Disney World campus outside Florida for close to a month.

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The statement reiterated that if one positive test occurs, that player will be isolated until he meets all rules established by the two parties to resume play. The 22 teams on the Disney campus traveled with limited parties of 35 people. Players undergo daily testing.

The season is scheduled to conclude in October with the NBA Finals. Commissioner Adam Silver and Michele Roberts, executive director of the players association, long made it clear they badly wanted to crown a 2019-20 champion, even when Silver paused the league in mid-March after Rudy Gobert posted the first positive test. The league and NBPA have drawn rave reviews from around the sporting world for the execution of their plan to this point.

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Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

Here are key Bulls players' most recent public comment on coach Jim Boylen

It’s Day 147 since the Bulls last played a game. The NBA has restarted its season to first-weekend-of-March-Madness-esque affect. With no positive COVID-19 cases yet reported from within the bubble, and games taking on a playoff feel, buzz is palpable.

But no, the Bulls have not yet announced a decision on the future of head coach Jim Boylen.

Still, tea-leaf reading continues to abound with respect to Boylen’s job status, and it’s easy to reason why. After a tumultuous third year of the current rebuild, ownership installed fresh leadership at the highest level of the front office in executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas; in turn, Karnisovas brought on general manager Marc Eversley, assistant GM J.J. Polk and VP of player personnel Pat Connelly. John Paxson retreated to an advisory role and Gar Forman was fired. There’s been a bit of deck-shuffling in the training and coaching staffs, though most were based on contract option deadlines.

All of which is to say, winds of change are howling for a franchise that was in dire need of it.

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So — whichever direction the team goes — what’s the hold up on committing to or moving on from Boylen? Karnisovas publicly addressed that question at his end-of-season conference call nearly two months ago.

“I know that you are anxious for me to comment definitively on our future of the Chicago Bulls. I understand that anticipation,” Karnisovas said. “That said, I take pride in being deliberate and thoughtful in my decision-making and take the weight of my decisions seriously. I’m not inclined to make evaluations prematurely to satisfy our excitement to move this team forward.”

Then: “I’d like to be in a building, to be in practices, to be around the coaching staff in meetings. We’re looking forward to getting in the video room together, analyze the games, to watch games together… In order for me to keep players and coaches accountable, I have to have personal relationships with them.”

That, and leaguewide financial uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, appear to have contributed to Karnisovas playing the long game in deciding on Boylen’s future.

But a vocal segment of the fanbase hasn’t been satisfied with that approach. And a common mantra among that group has been that keeping Boylen aboard as long as the new regime has is directly contradictory to their stated goal of making the Bulls a “players first” organization. Boylen’s 39-84 record through one-and-a-half seasons is the kindling for calls for his job. Reports of players privately expressing discontent with him have stoked the flames further.

So, in the spirit of getting it down on paper, let’s run through key Bulls players’ most recent public comments on Boylen (disclaimer: since the league shutdown began). We’ll update this piece if and when more filter through:

Tomáš Satoranský, Aug. 4: “I certainly don’t want to throw dirt on him”

Tuesday, Lukas Kuba, who’s all over all things Sato, had this tidbit from an interview Satoranský conducted on Express FM, a Czech radio station. In it, Satoranský acknowledged the harsh realities of the 2019-20 season, but was largely sympathetic towards Boylen due to a combination of his first-year status, front-facing role and work ethic:

 

Per Kuba, Satoranský has commented on Boylen to Czech media multiple times since the Bulls last played, and stayed diplomatic doing it. A common thread: Sato seems to see Boylen as a positive thinker who works hard, even if the fruits of that care factor haven’t bloomed on the court. He has also criticized Boylen’s rotations, but maintained — at least publicly — that he thinks Boylen will be back next season:

  

All of the above is likely translated from Czech — important context to note if analyzing every word.

Daniel Gafford, July 21: “He aight”

For the most part, Bulls players have maintained diplomacy speaking on Boylen since the NBA shuttered on March 11. Rookie center Daniel Gafford represents the most glaring exception. Here’s how he responded to a viewer question on his opinion of Boylen while live-streaming on Twitch:

 

“He aight. I don’t like him a lot but he OK,” Gafford said. “Got some things he can work on. Got some things he can get better at — as a person and as a coach. Not gonna hate on him, not gonna hate the man, but you know (trails off)...”

Far from a ringing endorsement, especially when you listen to Gafford’s tone in the audio itself. 

Context: Boylen light-heartedly admitted in the preseason that he’d been hard on Gafford in the run-up to the start of his first year; then, Gafford started the season out of the rotation in favor of free-agent-signing Luke Kornet before the rooke from Arkansas burst out with 21 points (10-for-12 FG), five rebounds and two blocks on Nov. 18 against the Milwaukee Bucks, unimpeachably proving his merit.

And on Jan. 6, there was this incident, when Boylen appeared to leave a timeout in his pocket with Gafford writhing in pain on the floor after turning his ankle in a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Gafford was allowed to sub out only after play stopped for a foul called on Tim Hardaway Jr.

 

Zach LaVine, June 5: “I think he goes out there and does his best.”

Thad Young, June 5: “He’s probably one of the more energetic coaches I’ve played for”

Both LaVine and Young took the high road when asked about Boylen in their end-of-season press conferences back in early June.

“I’m going to keep the same stance I always have. It’s not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don’t think anybody in any organization in the NBA goes out there and tries to fail,” LaVine said. “Sometimes, it’s out of your power on won-loss record or what happens during the game. I know for a fact he tries and does his best. That’s all you can ask for sometimes. As a player, I just follow the lead and do my job. On decisions and things like that, I leave that up to higher management. That’s not my role in the organization.”

And, in a perfect closing line: “I think you know I was going to answer that correctly.”

“That’s not really a question for me to answer,” Young echoed. “I think that’s more up to the front office. Obviously, Jim is very energetic. He’s probably one of the most energetic coaches I’ve played for. My job is to go out there and basically help lead this team to try to win games and play to the best of my ability each night. It’s the same for each guy down the line. That’s something you’ll have to ask Marc and Arturas and let them answer.”

Both LaVine and Young also had public differences of opinion with Boylen throughout the season. For LaVine, the inflection point was being pulled three-and-a-half minutes into an early-season blowout loss to the Miami Heat for what Boylen termed “three egregious defensive mistakes.”

“I’ve got pulled early before by him. I guess that’s just his thing to do,” LaVine said that night, only to drop 49 points and 13 3s on the Charlotte Hornets the next. 

An evident show of frustration (“Why?”) caught on camera following a last-minute Boylen timeout amid a 27-point defeat to the Toronto Raptors stands out, too. The near-coup that took place when Boylen took over in 2018 is well-documented, as is LaVine paying a $7,000 fine for the coach late last season — at the time, a sign of an evolving relationship that has since seen more bumps.

And Young’s frustrations with his role, first made public in a report by the Chicago Sun-Times in December 2019, permeated an up-and-down campaign in which he was asked to adjust to a style he hadn’t encountered in his 13-year career and inconsistent playing time. His best stretch came in place of an injured Lauri Markkanen, but he finished 2019-20 with non-rookie-year career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game.


How much stock you put into the above comments is in the eye of the beholder. They all contribute to the murky picture around the Bulls’ coaching situation right now.

RELATED: Why Arturas Karnisovas’ long play on Jim Boylen's future is the smart play

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