John Paxson

Bulls mailbag: What is Jim Boylen's future? Timeline on GM decision?

Bulls mailbag: What is Jim Boylen's future? Timeline on GM decision?

The Bulls are making so much news these days that you can do a mailbag without soliciting questions. Between followers @-ing me on Twitter to unsolicited emails, there still are plenty of questions about four major issues. Here they are:

Is Arturas Karnisovas seriously considering keeping Jim Boylen as coach?

Here’s what Karnisovas said on Boylen in a video interview with NBC Sports Chicago:

“I don’t want to make any rash decisions. I want to sit down with him. I want to evaluate. I want to watch our games from last year, what we could’ve done better, how I can help, what needs to change.”

Multiple outlets, including NBC Sports Chicago, have reported that Boylen still has ownership support from Jerry and Michael Reinsdorf. They signed off on extending him for two seasons beyond this one, though the deal makes him among the lowest-paid coaches in the league. So eating that money, should Karnisovas want to make a change, wouldn’t be a deterrent.

And Boylen’s future will be Karnisovas’ call. Karnisovas is serious when he said he plans to get to know Boylen, whom he doesn’t know well, before making a final decision.

This also has been previously reported, but the uncertainty of the NBA calendar could delay this decision and perhaps even benefit Boylen. If the league tries to resume the 2019-20 season for all teams and shortens the season, perhaps retaining Boylen to see how he fares for those few games makes sense.

Adding to the uncertainty is the unknown of the rhythms of the 2020 offseason, plus whether an attempt to resume the 2019-20 season pushes back the start of the 2020-21 season. Would more future coaching candidates become available then?

Another layer to this decision is that Karnisovas has a strong relationship with assistant coach Chris Fleming, who he helped hire for one season in Denver. Their association dates back to Fleming’s days as a successful head coach in Germany. Boylen targeted Fleming last offseason, and Fleming’s offensive philosophy sounds similar to Karnisovas’. Fleming’s presence could benefit Boylen, at least in the short-term.

Karnisovas also said he plans to talk to players to get to know them. This likely would lead to some insight on Boylen’s standing with players inside the locker room. Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen publicly expressed frustration at times last season over their roles or the systems in place. So that input will add another component to Karnisovas’ decision-making process.

Also, it's not exactly going out on a limb to say any executive, particularly one who has worked for years to land his first lead opportunity, might want his own coach in place at some point. John Paxson fired friend and former teammate Bill Cartwright, who was hired by Jerry Krause, in December 2003 and replaced him with Scott Skiles.

When will Arturas Karnisovas hire his general manager?

Here’s Karnisovas’ answer from his video interview with NBC Sports Chicago:

“I’m going to have an extensive and diverse process. I have an advantage over Michael (Reinsdorf) when he was making 200 calls, and he doesn’t know people he’s talking to. I’ve been in this profession a long time. Most of the guys on the list I know personally and I’ve known them for a long time, from scouting games and going to dinners and interaction. It’s going to be easier for me. I know exactly the criteria I’m looking for. It’s going to be complementary to me and my skill set. I don’t want clones. I want somebody who is going to bring something different to our organization.” 

There are candidates on Karnisovas’ list beyond the previously reported names of Matt Lloyd (Magic), Mark Hughes (Clippers) and Marc Eversley (76ers.) In fact, in another sign this is a new era in Bulls basketball, sources said Karnisovas hasn’t ruled out interviewing select player agents. Jerry Reinsdorf historically frowned upon dealing with agents, a stance changed when Michael Reinsdorf interviewed Jazz general manager Justin Zanik, who started as an agent, for the executive vice president of basketball operations role.

This is one of Karnisovas’ most critical hires, and there is speculation around the league that he has preferred candidates. You don’t spend time hoping to lead a franchise one day without formulating ideas about how to execute a leadership plan. 

But Karnisovas also is known as a thorough, process-oriented person. So expect to see him let that process fully play out for this critical hire.

Won’t Arturas Karnisovas feel like John Paxson is meddling with him still around? 

Here’s what Karnisovas said on this subject during a Monday conference call with reporters

“John has a great reputation around the league and has been with the organization for a number of years, and can be an asset of information. He’s been gracious in welcoming me. I’ve appreciated his candor and his great love for the Bulls and the city of Chicago. So I see him now as an asset and could be a huge help while I’m making this transition.’’ 

This isn’t lip service. Karnisovas understands that Paxson knows the nuances of the franchise and the Reinsdorfs. But Paxson will not be around the team on a daily basis and only consulted by Karnisovas if and when he chooses to do so.  Paxson will have no power for final decision-making, merely a voice if Karnisovas wants to use it. 

Anyone who knows Paxson knows he’s not a meddler. All he wants is to help his successor succeed in any manner that Karnisovas wants and for the Bulls to thrive again. He initiated the need for this massive front office overhaul. But don't take our word for it. Take Michael Reinsdorf's.

"John indicated to my Dad and me that he was no longer the right person to lead the Chicago Bulls. And that's really the kind of person John is. I've always said that when the time came to make a change, John would be the one to let us know, and that is indeed what ended up happening," Reinsdorf said Monday. "I was really excited though because it made the next steps clearer for me. We had a direction we were going to go. We not only needed to grow our basketball operations department, but one of the most important steps I had to take was to find the right person to lead our organization."

Will Gar Forman be hired by another team?

The early talk around the league is yes. Forman, for all his issues involving trust with some agents and other executives, is also known as an extremely strong talent evaluator. He has two years left on his contract with the Bulls, which will be paid to him in some fashion, a source said. But he’s likely to land a scouting job with another team.

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Bulls officially announce Arturas Karnisovas as EVP of basketball operations

Bulls officially announce Arturas Karnisovas as EVP of basketball operations

Throughout his decade-plus experience working in the Rockets and Nuggets’ front offices, Arturas Karnisovas developed a reputation as a thorough, detail-oriented talent evaluator who seeks collaboration but is unafraid to make the difficult decision. 

Should anybody be surprised at his opening statement on a conference call with reporters Monday, shortly after the Bulls fulfilled his lifetime dream to run a franchise by officially introducing him as executive vice president of basketball operations?

“All we can control is our approach and the process behind every decision. A firm foundation is absolutely vital, I'll build that here in Chicago. No skipping steps. There is a systematic approach to success that will be the product of focus and intention, hard work and diligence. We will strive for constant improvement,” Karnisovas said on the call. 

“Chicago is a great sports town with a long, robust sports history. The city is made up of very passionate fans. Earning the enthusiasm and excitement back from the fans is both a challenge and something I very much look forward to. These fans deserve a team that they can be proud of, and my objective is to get us back to relevancy.”

Karnisovas also emphasized the player development that was so vital to the Nuggets’ success.

“My professional philosophy is knowing players, constant communication, roster balance, and deal-making creativity. It’s team sports, so as a leader I have to understand individual roles and commit to the execution of those responsibilities,” Karnisovas said. “When I come in and I’ll have time to do that, I’m going to evaluate the current structure and where are the blind spots.”

Karnisovas will be given full authority and plenty of runway to executive his vision. This is only the third head of basketball operations hired since Jerry Reinsdorf led a group of investors who purchased the team in 1985. Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf spearheaded this search.

“This is my view of the role ownership should play in sports, and certainly in terms of basketball: The ownership is responsible for hiring the right person to lead the basketball team and then should step to the side and allow the basketball people to do their work. And if we pick the wrong person it can take years to recover, and so we needed to get this right,” Michael Reinsdorf said on the call. “At the beginning of our search, we identified needs and areas of importance in our basketball operations person. We consulted both across the league and outside the organization to observe, learn, determine the kind of qualities that we wanted to build our search around.

“I loved the idea of bringing in someone from the outside to lead the organization. That's worked incredibly well on the business side, bringing people in who have new ideas and new ways of doing things different than the way we do it. 

“The talent internationally continues to grow, and the ability to navigate international basketball is more important than ever. The person we hire needed to be incredibly strong in that area. We wanted someone that would bring their own ideas and concepts and have a strong, strong presence. A leader who will be process-oriented in trying to build a winning team, someone who works collaboratively with others and surrounds himself with really smart people and develops talent in the basketball operations department. This job isn't just a one person job. Building a winning team, as we all know, it's players-first, but we need to have an organization that is strong up and down, from the lowest person in the organization to the highest person. And that was really important. And we wanted someone who is passionate about being part of the Chicago Bulls family.” 

Karnisovas is, from his days cheering for the Bulls growing up in Lithuania to playing against the Dream Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics to guarding them while playing for the Greek pro team Olympiacos in a preseason tournament in Paris in 1997.

Karnisovas has wasted no time, hiring a cap expert in J.J. Polk from the Pelicans and bringing a respected player development head in Pat Connelly with him from the Nuggets. He also detailed why Gar Forman is being let go and why John Paxson is remaining as a senior advisor.

“I think right from the start in this hiring process they were hiring a number one decision maker. John has a great reputation around the league and has been with the organization for a number of years, and can be an asset of information. He’s been gracious in welcoming me, I’ve appreciated his candor, and has great love for the Bulls and the city of Chicago,” Karnisovas said. “So I see him now as an asset and could be a huge help while I’m making this transition.’’

Karnisovas worked in the Denver Nuggets' front office for seven years, the first four as assistant general manager, the final three as general manager. 

"It’s a bittersweet moment as we are losing a trusted colleague and a best friend, but we are so unbelievably proud of Arturas," Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly told Mike Singer of The Denver Post. "He’s going to be an absolute home run hire for the Bulls.”

Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf released a statement on Paxson, whom he hired to replace Jerry Krause in 2003. It confirmed, as did Michael Reinsdorf during his conference call comments, that Paxson initiated the need to change his role and build a bigger, more modern front office.

“John has an invaluable perspective on our organization and where we want to be, and he played an instrumental role in this change by bringing forward the idea of a restructure and reorganization," Reinsdorf's statement said. "I have always held his knowledge and basketball insight in the highest regard, and he has earned my respect as well as that of his peers. His decision to take on a new role reflects what I’ve always known about John — that he is forever a willing teammate on and off of the court and always does what he believes is in the best interest of the Chicago Bulls.”

Paxson is comfortable with this new direction.

"When I came here in 1985, I never imagined what the Chicago Bulls would mean to me more than 35 years later," Paxson said in a statement. "While I’m in a new role and a new phase in my life, what won’t ever change is my commitment to the Bulls and appreciation to Jerry and Michael for the incredible opportunities I’ve been afforded. I’ve had the rare opportunity to see this team as a player, broadcaster and executive, and at every turn I’ve been fortunate to experience what makes this organization so special — people who give their best every day and work together as a team, as well as our incredible fans who support us.

"I’ve always tried to do what was best for our organization and put our team in position to succeed, and ultimately compete. I know Arturas will do the same. He brings the kind of talent, experience and commitment to collaboration that will allow him to succeed in his new role. I truly believe this is a great opportunity for the Bulls organization and that there are bright days ahead.”

As previously reported, Karnisovas is expected to have further dialogue with Jim Boylen before making a decision on the coaching situation.

"I want to welcome Arturas to the Chicago Bulls. He has a wealth of experience as a player and executive, and a strong reputation within the basketball community," Boylen said in a statement. "I commend Jerry and Michael for bringing Arturas on board.

"I am thankful for the support that John and Gar provided me and my staff when I became our head coach. Their commitment and belief in our team played a key role in helping me establish a foundation for how I wanted to coach our team. I cannot overstate how much I appreciate that. I wish them and their families nothing but the best."

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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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