Bulls questions: How should the Bulls pitch potential front office candidates?

Bulls questions: How should the Bulls pitch potential front office candidates?

Two times per week, we'll be breaking down a pertinent Bulls question for you all to chew in during the NBA's hiatus.

Past installments: What is Zach LaVine's ceiling? | Should Bulls lock in Kris Dunn long-term after career-reviving year? | Evaluating last offseason's additions, how they fit long-term | What happened to Lauri Markkanen?

The Bulls’ formal search for a new head of basketball operations began this week, and developments so far serve as a crucial reminder of two things:

  1. This is as much an interview of the Bulls as it is for the Bulls

  2. We are currently experiencing a staggeringly unprecedented time in NBA history

What developments drive those points home? Well, the Bulls entered the first weekend of April with four primary interview targets — Denver Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas, Toronto Raptors GM Bobby Webster, Indiana Pacers GM Chad Buchanan and Miami Heat assistant GM Adam Simon — for their lead executive spot. They entered Tuesday with just one of those four left on the market: Karnisovas, though Justin Zanik rose from the ashes with reports that the Utah Jazz general manager conducted a virtual interview for the gig Monday afternoon.

The reason for the inaccessibility of the other three isn’t a matter of public record, but based on pertinent reporting, we can infer a fair amount. Buchanan withdrew consideration first for reasons relating to his comfort level and “strong personal situation” in Indiana, according to our K.C. Johnson. Then, on Monday, seemingly in one fell swoop, Webster and Simon were off the board, as well. 

Some rushed to categorize these developments as slaps in the face — surefire signs that talk of the substantive change many are hoping for was smoke and mirrors. And that’s a valid first instinct to have. But the reality is greater are forces in some part at play. In the case of Webster, specifically, Michael Grange of Sportsnet reported a litany of reasons for the Raptors planning to reject the Bulls’ interview request — ranging from uncertainty surrounding the team’s impending free agents to the expiration of both president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri and coach Nick Nurse’s contracts after the 2020-21 season. With so much uncertainty in the post-coronavirus NBA landscape, can you blame Toronto for not letting their brightest young mind stroll out the door to interview for his (sort of) hometown team? Or Webster for passing up a chance to potentially grab the reins in Toronto down the road?

This is not to dismiss all skepticism. Despite a storied history, the Bulls are no longer an organization of enough repute to pluck top-tier talent from top-tier organizations at will — player, coach or front office. As much as these issues are more complicated than we often make them out to be, that dynamic is inescapable. 

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So, how should the Bulls navigate this search — one that is so crucial for the fate of this rebuild and future of the franchise? Beginning interviews when they did is a good start. The faster the onboarding process moves, the more time the new hire will have to pass judgement on every layer of the Bulls organization, and set into motion subsequent hires and transactions. If the NBA does find a way to resume its regular season (not likely it seems, but also not impossible) and they’re able to get an intimate look at the Bulls’ day-to-day operations and game action before the offseason, all the better.

Then, there’s the pitch — again, this is as much an interview of the Bulls as for them. Contrary to popular cynicism, this team can put together an attractive one for accomplished candidates.

For one, any new hire coming in walks right into a pretty flexible roster situation, in spite of this team being locked in as-is for the 2020-21 season. While the salary cap ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic are not yet known, these books beyond the 2020-21 season are about as clean as one could hope for (figures via Spotrac):

  2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24
Total Cap Allocations $106,027,707 $65,249,867 $9,344,636 $0
Signed Players 13 8 2 0

That 2021-22 column is one many will be focused on: The summer of Giannis. Lauri Markkanen’s impending extension looms over that ~$65 million figure, but that number also includes fully guaranteeing the third years on Thad Young ($6 million partial guarantee) and Tomas Satoransky’s ($5 million partial guarantee) contracts, picking up Ryan Arcidiacono’s third-year $3 million club option, inking Chandler Hutchison’s two-year team option and a couple other extenuating factors. Even if the cap stayed static at roughly $109 million (or takes a slight dip) through then, that's a hefty amount of room, and they'll be flexible.

This isn’t meant to be a cap-dissection column, but the point is: The crucial cogs on this team are young and cost-controlled — to the extent the Bulls wish them to be — on rookie deals. On the court this season, we saw the detriments of having one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. These are the benefits.

And speaking of youth, whatever your gripes with the John Paxson/Gar Forman era, they didn’t frivolously throw away first round picks. The Bulls own all of their first round selections for the foreseeable future, so they won’t be working entirely from behind in that respect, á la the rebuilding Brooklyn Nets of the mid-2010s. They’re due for another top-10 selection this season, albeit in what many consider an underwhelming draft.

Market considerations matter, as well. The Bulls haven’t been a free agent destination for some time, but the franchise’s tradition and top-notch facilities do mean something for prospective candidates Zooming/Skyping in and envisioning the infrastructure they’ll attempt to build.

Of course, devil’s advocate must be played. While this job is more desirable on its face than many give it credit for, it’s not a utopian situation. The biggest hurdle in that regard are questions about the power structure — chiefly, if Paxson and (to a lesser extent) Forman will truly cede full autonomy to the new hire. Many interpreted the early exits of Buchanan and Simon from consideration for the job as an indication that we might be in for more of the same in that regard.

For what it’s worth, Paxson reportedly played a part in initiating this search in the first place and has also reportedly expressed an intent to fully comply with the new hire’s desired role for him — however involved or absent that may be. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the new hire is interviewing for Paxson's title. Even all of that won’t be satisfactory to some, but it’s the state of affairs. We know at least that this ownership group is not one notorious for over-meddling in basketball operations.

Further, that question of the true nature of the Bulls power structure ripples through every layer of the decision-making process for candidates. If full autonomy really means full autonomy, the new hire can come in assured they will be afforded the opportunity to assess and reshuffle the Bulls organization from top to bottom — from roster to coaching staff to scouting department and beyond — and move freely in whatever direction they so choose. If this hire is to be nailed, preserving that dynamic is crucial.

From there leads into another hurdle, which could actually be viewed as a perk, depending on your perspective. Most agree this Bulls’ core is talented, albeit underachieving to this point. But even the most optimistic of evaluators wouldn’t peg any of the team’s current core — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. or Coby White — as slam-dunk, transcendent, franchise-altering stars at this point. For that reason, there’s a non-zero chance whoever this new hire is is going to have to get creative and make some difficult decisions on who to prioritize and invest in at some point in their tenure, perhaps even early on.

That could prove difficult to be sure, but the hope is that any talented executive — young or veteran — would embrace such a challenge. Isn’t that what one gets into the business for? The thrill of the rebuild? It’s in situations such as the one the Bulls can present that executives dream of walking into: Clean books, some young talent, a balanced draft budget and full control of every strata of the organization.

For all of that to be executed well, you need a 'dispassionate evaluator' in the big chair — a term I picked up from this feature on Minnesota Timberwolves executive vice president of basketball operations Sachin Gupta by Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

What does a dispassionate evaluator look like in the Bulls' case? Someone who, say, didn’t live and die by every Markkanen 20-10 game in February 2019. Someone who is unbothered by letting Kris Dunn walk inviting the perception of ‘losing’ the Jimmy Butler trade. Someone who can cooly and rationally look at the situation before them and do what is necessary to accelerate the Bulls’ path to contention.

All of this is to say, even with a number of prospective candidates already out of the running, the Bulls are not in a bad spot — not yet is it time to sound alarms. This week, two external, veteran and accomplished GMs with experience building relationships, management structures and winning programs will weigh what the Bulls have to offer them from a personal and career perspective.

The good news is, the Bulls might just have more to offer than you’d think — at least on paper.

RELATED: Bulls Talk Podcast: Bulls search for new front office member begins 

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Thad Young on the challenges of being a father in a racially unjust world

Thad Young on the challenges of being a father in a racially unjust world

Before getting to Jim Boylen’s future, the anticlimactic end to the Bulls’ campaign and the NBA’s unprecedented 22-team play-in format to finish its 2019-20 season, Thad Young had to address the full context at hand for his conference call with reporters.

For Friday marked the 11th day since George Floyd, a black man, died after white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for nearly nine straight minutes. The killing has sparked mass unrest, protests and fervent discourse around racial injustice and police brutality across the globe. The world also continues to grapple with the new reality of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered the NBA on March 11, and the rest of the United States (where the virus has killed over 100,000 and counting) soon after.

“I know we’re stuck in unprecedented times where we’re in the house during COVID and then the thing that happened with George Floyd and social injustice,” Young said before fielding questions on the call. “I just want to make sure to let everybody know that I hope everybody is safe and healthy with our families, and make sure we’re holding each and every one of us close and try to get through these tough times…”

Young, 31, is currently bunkered down in his family’s new home in Texas with his wife, Shekinah, and two sons. Parsing through the realities of a racially unjust world with his sons, to hear Young tell is, has been a balancing act.

“When they come up with a question, it’s very hard to answer that question because I don’t want them to have to grow up and fear for their lives or have to grow up and understand that they can’t do the same things that other people are doing,” Young said. “That’s one of the toughest things. You want to give your kid the world. You want to get them to understand that, ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want to do.’ In these times, it’s just not the same. You can’t do everything that somebody else is doing. 

“If I’m going to be specific about it, the black kid can’t do everything that a white kid is doing. Those are things that are very, very tough to talk about. But it’s a harsh reality and we have to talk about them. My kids are still young, six and nine. They understand certain things that are going on, but not entirely everything. 

“For me as a father, that’s probably one of the toughest conversations to ever have with your kids. They all have questions because there’s so much stuff on social media and so much stuff on YouTube, which is what all the kids are watching now. When they see a video pop up with different things that happened… My youngest son, he asked the other day, ‘Why did they kill that man, Daddy?’ It’s hard for me to answer that question because you don’t want to push him into the harsh reality of what it is. But you have to answer those tough questions and you have to have those tough conversations with your kids. It’s definitely hard. What happened is definitely saddening for me but it also scares me to death because I have two young boys.”

Sadder still because the direct onus of those difficult conversations falls on black families far more than their white counterparts. It’s a testament to how ingrained racial biases (at best) and racist practices (at worst) still are, even today.

The hope of Young, Zach LaVine, who spoke on an earlier call, and countless others calling and fighting for change, is that a new dawn is on the horizon. Whether substantive change comes to fruition remains to be seen, but Young emphasized that resolution will come through unity.

“It’s so early right now just to see if there’s going to be change. One of the things that I do see is we have some unity coming,” Young said. “We have some people who are getting together. We have these protests. People are coming out and letting their voices be heard. You have a lot of celebrities and very, very influential people who are following suit. The good thing is we have a lot of people who are speaking up for change and speaking up for freedom and peace. 

“We’re bringing more and more people together. One of the biggest things is to continue to do that. Continue to let our voices be heard. Stay together. Stay unified. And also make sure we do what’s right and steer everybody away from doing what’s wrong.”

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Zach LaVine explains decision to vote, thoughts on fight for social justice

Zach LaVine explains decision to vote, thoughts on fight for social justice

At a rally to address social justice issues in Seattle on Thursday, Zach LaVine made both an important plea and a notable admission.

“Go vote,” he said, via a video from Percy Allen of The Seattle Times. “I haven’t been able to go and do that yet, but coming this November I am going to, because I know it’s gonna change something.”

In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, which has sparked global unrest and protests, many have voiced the need for change, unity and concerted action to combat police brutality and injustice. LaVine added to that chorus (and past comments of his own) on a Friday Zoom call with assorted media. 

He also confirmed that he’s never voted before, but made it a point to explain the evolution of his involvement in politics in his comments.

“It (voting) just wasn’t something that I was hip to,” LaVine said. “Obviously, I know that you have the right to vote, but everybody doesn’t have to. With what’s going on, I think it matters a lot more now, at least to me, because I think every single vote counts. Before, I wasn’t educated at all on it. I’m trying to educate myself now more on the politics and what goes on and how things are voted on. So just taking action in my own community and trying to do my part is the reason why I’m moving forward with that.”

LaVine went on to encourage others to educate themselves — as he has and continues to do — on issues that resonate with them and act on them at the ballot box.

“Go out there and not just vote for presidency but things in your own community, as well,” LaVine said. “Because everything that you vote for can make a change and put those people who are in power to hear your voice and help make that change, as well. Educating yourself, making sure that we're all together, because what's going on isn't right.”

Action outside of the electoral process can manifest in different ways for different people. For some, it’s seeking out education on topics once unfamiliar to them. For others, it’s speaking out — whether it be in their own social niches or on social media. For one person, it might mean donating. For another, it might mean protesting. 

Whatever one’s personal preference or capacity, LaVine is imploring any and all allies to the cause to get involved, now more fervently than ever.

“This has been going on for a long time. I think the video cameras shed light on a lot of things, what's been going on with the world and police and different things like that,” LaVine said. “I think now that we're starting to get this platform for all athletes and entertainers to use our platform for good, and I just want to continue to go out there and share that, as well. There's going to have to be some type of movement, and maybe it might not be this generation, it might be the next, but you know, it can't continue to be this way.”

LaVine’s advice for those looking for ways to take action was all-encompassing, and centered on being unabashedly yourself.

“Educate yourself. Be active. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and be different either. Go out there and try to make a change even if you have an opinion and you’re the only one in the room talking,” LaVine said. “Don’t be afraid of that, because I think now with what’s going on, everybody has a certain opinion and now that everybody is talking, it’s OK to have that opinion. If something settles down and you’re the only one with an opinion, I think it’s a little bit harder for someone to speak up. So don’t feel scared about that. And go out there and do what’s right for you.”

He also parsed through the complex nature of the protests, which have in some instances featured looting.

“Everybody has a voice right now and we’re bringing attention to it, to where we have to be heard,” LaVine said. “Some of the negatives, obviously there’s a lot of frustration, not just in the black community but a lot of communities, where looting and things are going on. And you have to understand everybody’s situation. 

“For me personally, I don’t like looting and stealing, but if that’s a way for people to get their frustration out, that’s how it has to be. But it’s not being portrayed that way. It’s being portrayed as the black community is looting when that’s just the way of frustration and getting things out. And the black community isn’t the only one looting. The TV has their own narrative and they’re going to share their own narrative so we’ve got to be careful about that.”

The Bulls, according to LaVine, recently assembled on a Zoom call to talk through their emotions in the wake of the events of the past few weeks, organized by Arturas Karnisovas. LaVine called it a “safe space,” and pledged continued action moving forward.

“Not everybody has somebody to talk to or they feel afraid to talk, so, a safe space to talk and I think moving forward we're obviously going to do something,” LaVine said. “I think the league's going to do something. But I think that's going to come at a time when we can get together and actually sit down and think of something that's powerful.”

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