Bulls

How the Utah Jazz provide precedent for the Bulls' front office revamp

How the Utah Jazz provide precedent for the Bulls' front office revamp

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. 


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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.

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Arturas Karnisovas vows to get creative with Bulls' development in long offseason

Arturas Karnisovas vows to get creative with Bulls' development in long offseason

Talk about cruel coincidence.

The Bulls were in Orlando, Fla. to play a game that never happened on March 11, the night that commissioner Adam Silver suspended the NBA season. And they won’t be in Orlando in July when the league attempts to restart following the COVID-19-induced hiatus.

Nothing has been easy about the Bulls’ 2019-20 season, which makes the unprecedented nature of the offseason seem fitting. Roughly nine months between games for a young team that features a new management regime is hardly ideal.

“I do agree with you that not playing puts us in a competitive disadvantage,” executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas said on a Saturday conference call. “But I think there are creative ways to (stay sharp).”

By all accounts, and in their own words, Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley thrive on relationships, face-to-face interaction and living in the gym. Until Wednesday, when the Bulls followed city guidelines to open the Advocate Center for voluntary, socially distanced workouts, they never even had that opportunity.

Karnisovas said he and Eversley are scheduled to be in Chicago soon. The problem is, the players don’t have to be. That’s why there’s talk between the eight teams excluded from the restart and both the league and players association about alternative methods to navigate an unprecedented offseason.

“We’re getting now on calls and we’re having conversations about how we can develop our players and how we can have a structure in place to get some practicing and possibly some scrimmaging possibly in the offseason to catch up to those teams that are going to be playing. The work obviously never stops,” Karnisovas said. “I informed the players that we will inform them depending on what the league is going to allow us to do this summer, and we’re going to go from there.”

This type of communication with players has been consistent since the Bulls hired the new management regime.

“They've been great.They've both been keeping us abreast of everything that's going on, especially during the time where we were trying to figure out if we could get back in the gym or not or during the time where they were figuring out who's going to go to Orlando,” Thaddeus Young said. “Arturas is very, very good as far as communicating. Marc is great… Obviously, this is a situation where they can't really do their job because we're not playing basketball, and I'm sure they're anxious to really get on the job and get a grasp of things. But they've been great as far as reaching out and talking to us all and making sure they're staying in sync with us.”

Zach LaVine agreed.

“You don’t have any expectations going into something new. But as a player, it’s always good to have them reach out to you. They did that the first day,” LaVine said. “Arturas reached out to me and I’ve had several conversations with him, him just checking in to see how we’re doing, having Zoom calls, text meetings. He has called me individually as well. Same with Marc.

“A lot of it is just getting to know the team. Some of it was just general conversation like, ‘How you’re doing. What have you been doing in Seattle? How are things out there concerning coronavirus and [racial injustice protests] that have been going on.’ It’s been good — general conversation, workouts, what’s been going on with the team, why this didn’t work, why this worked. They’ve been extremely involved.”

Karnisovas said the ideal scenario, which would have to be agreed upon between the league and players association, would be to hold team-oriented activities like practices and possibly scrimmages with other non-bubble teams.

“There’s going to be a lot of player development and individual work, but I also would like to see some team activity, as well, because there’s so much time away from the game of basketball,” Karnisovas said. “Just playing games, I would look for the league to see something like that, to simulate something like that this summer.”

In a typical offseason, teams can’t mandate players to remain in-market. In a TV interview in his native Czech Republic, Tomas Satoransky said he may practice with a team in Prague during the offseason. Karnisovas said Lauri Markkanen has remained in Chicago for now but his family has been back and forth to Finland. LaVine is in Seattle. Young said he’s in Texas for now.

“We’re exchanging a lot of conversations and proposals with the league,” Karnisovas said. “The players in the market, they’ve already been coming into the Advocate Center for individual work. So hopefully I’ll be able to see them. The players out of the market, we’ll continue talking to them. And once we have more direction from the league, we’ll propose a bunch of plans to our players for the summer.

“I’m confident because I think eight teams is a huge part of our league. And I think the league’s interest is to support those teams as well as they can. The proposed structure of some practices and some scrimmages that we would like to see this summer, I think it’s not too much to ask."

RELATED: Arturas Karnisovas pledges to make bounceback plan with Lauri Markkanen

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Arturas Karnisovas pledges to make bounceback plan with Lauri Markkanen

Arturas Karnisovas pledges to make bounceback plan with Lauri Markkanen

The case of Lauri Markkanen’s third-year regression is multi-pronged.

Across the board, the one-time wunderkin’s production sank, his minutes and opportunity in the offense fluctuated, and his general assertiveness seemed to wane. What’s to blame for the disappointing campaign? Some combination of Markkanen, the Bulls’ coaching staff, teamwide tumult, and, perhaps, too-lofty expectations to begin with. Injuries — respective oblique (soreness) and ankle (sprain) ailments he played through, and a stress reaction in his pelvis that sidelined him 15 games — undoubtedly played a role, as well.

Regardless of the culprit of Markkanen’s woes, if the Bulls’ rebuild is to get back on track, their second cornerstone must rebound in Year 4 and beyond. New general manager Marc Eversley has pledged to “learn more about” the reasons behind Markkanen’s struggles in pursuit of that mission.

Arturas Karnisovas did the same in an end-of-season conference call with reporters Saturday, adding that he’s personally spoken to Markkanen, who remained in the Chicago area throughout the NBA’s hiatus, on multiple occasions. The fruits of those conversations appear to be positive thus far, with hunger to improve a theme.

“We’ve spoken to Lauri numerous times. He’s been very patient, stayed in the market. His family is now with him,” Karnisovas said. “I spoke to him about last year. He’s eager to get back to the gym and improve. He was disappointed by the overall result (last season). Every player wants to win. He’s about winning, as well. Our objective is to get the best version of Lauri next year. We agreed in conversations that this is our objective, and we’re going to try to do it.”

Also worth adding to the to-do list could be hammering out a long-term extension with Markkanen, who is eligible for one when the offseason officially strikes. Karnisovas didn’t address that dynamic with reporters, instead impressing the importance of getting under the same roof and laying the foundation for a strong personal relationship with Markkanen before jumping to any conclusions.

“I’ll look forward to meeting him face-to-face. Before accountability, I have to have a personal relationship with him,” Karnisovas said.

That quality of Karnisovas’ thoughtful leadership style has permeated the decision-making process on head coach Jim Boylen’s future, as well. Karnisovas reiterated what has been widely reported in the call: A decision on Boylen is not imminent, and will wait until Karnisovas (who is “on the way” to Chicago) is able to meet Boylen in person and establish a relationship with him.

As for Markkanen, expectations remain high, even after a down year. And fulfilling that expectation will be a collaborative process, to hear Karnisovas tell it. That and management clearly viewing Markkanen as an asset worth pouring time and resources into are refreshing sentiments.

“We’ll set expectations, which are pretty high,” Karnisovas said. “And it’s about improvement. Each player, from talking to them, they were disappointed with last year’s result.

“We’re going to strive to get better. Same thing with Lauri. We have a lot of time this offseason. We’re going to put a plan together for him. We’re going to schedule and do that.”

Indeed, with the Bulls excluded from the NBA’s 22-team resumption plan, a potential nine-month-plus layoff between games looms. For a team as young as these Bulls, that type of dry spell has the potential to be detrimental to development and continuity. In that vein, Karnisovas said he’d favor “some team-oriented activities… practices and possibly scrimmages” as curriculum for the eight teams not assembling in Orlando as a way to stay loose. 

The bright side to all of the above: The fresh-faced front office has nothing but time to address all that riddled the Bulls in 2019-20. Player development, which begins with relationships, will clearly be a tenet of the new regime. And there’s no better place to begin putting their words on that topic to action than with Markkanen.

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