In 2012, the Utah Jazz hired Dennis Lindsey as general manager, moving Kevin O’Connor into the executive vice president of basketball operations role.
O’Connor ran basketball operations for the Jazz for 13 seasons, making the playoffs nine times and ranking among the league leaders in home attendance throughout his run.
Lindsey took over seamlessly, using O'Connor as a resource when needed but possessing full autonomy while consistently wringing maximum production out of a small market franchise. He executed a similar succession plan in 2019 when he promoted Justin Zanik to general manager while assuming the title of executive vice president of basketball operations himself.
The coincidence in the Bulls’ search for a new head of basketball operations isn’t as much that Zanik interviewed Monday and is considered a finalist for the job. It’s that Paxson and O’Connor enjoy a respectful professional relationship, and the family ownership structures and philosophies of the Jazz and Bulls are similar.
The Reinsdorfs, like the leaguewide perception of Jazz ownership, are known for running the business side and letting basketball operations do their jobs.
No matter how many times it gets reported that Paxson is fine with moving into a senior advisory role like O’Connor did, a portion of a disgruntled fan base remains skeptical. It’s understandable. The Reinsdorfs are known for their loyalty and Paxson, along with Gar Forman, who has held the general manager title since 2009, has headed basketball operations for 17 years.
But the perception that Paxson will be some hovering presence, going kicking and screaming into the night, is simply wrong. Early this season, Paxson communicated his vision to ownership for a new-look, more modern front office. He initiated some of this need for change.
Michael Reinsdorf likely would have arrived at the same conclusion anyway and has taken the reins on addressing the issue. Well before news broke over All-Star weekend, he began performing due diligence and background on a wide variety of candidates.
What is getting lost sometimes in this story — but is perhaps is the most significant aspect to it — is the fact the Bulls are going outside their organization to hire a new head of basketball operations. This is unprecedented.
Jerry Krause actually briefly served as Bulls director of player personnel in the 1970s and knew Jerry Reinsdorf well from baseball scouting circles when Reinsdorf tabbed him to run basketball operations in 1985. And Reinsdorf promoted Paxson from the radio booth to succeed Krause in 2003.
Neither Zanik, nor Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas, nor any of the other targeted names on Reinsdorf’s list — some of whom are staying with their current franchises — have ties to the Bulls. Only Magic assistant general manager Matt Lloyd does, and if he is hired, it will likely be by the new basketball operations head as that person builds out his infrastructure.
Paxson knows the organizational history. He knows the city. He knows how to communicate with the Reinsdorfs. His goal, simply, will be to help whomever the Reinsdorfs hire succeed.
Zanik, in his days as a player agent, worked with Paxson and general manager Gar Forman and almost certainly would view Paxson as a resource, not a roadblock.
Paxson already holds the title of executive vice president, basketball operations. So whatever his new title is will represent one difference between when O’Connor hired Lindsey.
This new Bulls’ hire isn’t being hired as a general manager like Lindsey originally was. He’s being hired to run basketball operations and will be given authority to make additional hires if he sees fit as he builds out the organizational infrastructure. In fact, in his new role, Paxson wouldn’t even likely be at the Advocate Center daily.
The Jazz’s succession plan worked then, and it works now. O’Connor, who now owns a senior advisor title, offers whatever input is needed on major decisions.
Paxson will, too — if this new hire wants to use him. If he doesn’t, Paxson cares enough about the organization and the Reinsdorfs to take as small a role as the new hire wants.
It’s as simple as that.