Calling the season a “disappointment” and "unacceptable", Bulls executive vice president John Paxson addressed the media along with general manager Gar Forman after the Bulls’ season-ending win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
It marks the first time the Bulls have ended their season with a lottery appearance since 2008, as they’ve fallen well short of expectations that didn’t just revolve around qualifying for the playoffs but the belief they could contend for supremacy in the Eastern Conference.
“Gar and I understand accountability. And we are accountable for what this team did this year,” Paxson said. “We don’t run away from it. We accept it. That’s on us. And we get it. And we understand what’s at stake.”
What’s at stake could be the Bulls’ standing in the conference and league, as the franchise faces a crucial offseason where Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol will be unrestricted free agents, along with deciding the best course of action with several key players on their roster.
“We had a bad year, we are not running from that,” Paxson said. “Changes need to be made. I’ll go down with a group that fights more than a group that doesn’t.”
Paxson roundly disputed reports Forman’s job was in jeopardy, and made no bones about the expectations that were placed in front of new coach Fred Hoiberg, as they didn’t make significant changes to a roster that lost in the second round of the 2015 playoffs.
“This roster we brought back, we thought they had one more shot to make a real positive run in the Eastern Conference,” Paxson said. “It obviously didn’t play out that way. And that’s where our biggest disappointment comes from. I do think that anybody who watched us play this year saw a team that didn’t have the collective fight and toughness to fight through adversity.”
The adversity included the myriad injuries the Bulls suffered for another year, starting from the first days of training camp when Mike Dunleavy underwent back surgery and Derrick Rose broke his orbital bone in the first 30 minutes of the first practice.
Forman added the entire roster wasn’t together en masse all season, punctuated by the season-ending injury to Noah in January—but Paxson added he talked to the team after the game and said he felt they still had enough to make the playoffs.
“We did have a lot of significant injuries that hurt us,” Paxson said. “But we as well as anyone understand that’s not an excuse. In fact, I told our guys, given the injuries, we were good enough to make the playoffs.”
Paxson and Forman addressed the seemingly endless controversy surrounding the players and their adjustment to Hoiberg, admitting Hoiberg endured some growing pains.
Hoiberg had situations with Noah as well as Jimmy Butler—situations Paxson pointed to Hoiberg saying he wished he’d do some things over again as growth within a tumultuous season.
“We’re in this with Fred,” Paxson said. “I think the last few days Fred has an opportunity to express some things that are honest and candid about what he needs to do better. It’s our responsibility to help him along that way.”
“What I've heard him say the last week or so, he's gonna do everything he can to improve and grow. I'm very confident he'll grow. How can you not through experience?”
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At 42-40, the Bulls finished ninth in the East, but even if they made the playoffs, Paxson said they would evaluate things as honestly as they say they are as a lottery team.
“Tex Winter used to have an old saying that, ‘Winning covers a multitude of sins.’,” Paxson said. “And even had we gotten to the playoffs – we wanted to, believe me, that was the goal, even with all the injuries and anything – it would not have covered up a lot of the things, the issues we’ve discussed here. Those would not have gone away. We’d still be addressing them.”