“That’s what makes the Chicago situation so bizarre. They don’t want him back and the people of Chicago love him.”
“And you say to yourself, regardless of what friction there may be between Jerry Reinsdorf, the front office, and the coach, regardless of how enamored the front office may be with Iowa State’s coach, if you got a team that can win a championship or contend for one….what’s the problem in bringing them all back?”
Bulls fans have been begging and pleading for a change in management. Fans are increasingly frustrated with Bulls General Manager, Gar Forman, and Vice President of Basketball Operations, John Paxson. Fans have watched the Bulls stagger to the All-Star break with a sub-.500 record at 28-29, hear consistent rumors of Bulls management being unsure which way to take the team, and constant rumblings of a potential Jimmy Butler trade – with most NBA experts agreeing that Jimmy Butler is likely a top 10 player in the league right now and one of the best two-way players in the NBA. What’s the plan? Nobody seems to know. Then you have KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reporting this:
There’s also an internal feeling that Forman’s publicly stated goal to remain competitive while overhauling the roster over several seasons to get younger and more athletic is working. – KC Johnson, Chicago Tribune, February 7th, 2017
The Bulls are exactly a year younger on average than last season and two of the greatest criticisms of this team are the lack of development of young talent such as Nikola Mirotic, Doug McDermott, and Bobby Portis and that the Bulls can’t compete with athletic teams. If you need proof of that, just re-watch the recent Bulls/Suns game and the lowly Suns were able to run the Bulls off the court. They couldn’t stop them on the break. This seems to be working?
Without a firm commitment to the present or the future, the Bulls are stuck in limbo. The trade deadline is this week and by their action (or inaction) on Jimmy Butler we’ll have a solid idea of where this franchise is heading. But don’t expect this thing to turn around anytime soon.
The two quotes above sound like they are ripped directly from the saga of Tom Thibodeau vs. Gar/Pax, but they weren’t. This was actually a modified exchange between Bill Walton, Isiah Thomas, and Bob Costas during the 1998 All-Star game. Notice the timeline on this as well. When Thibodeau was rumored to be on the way out, the Bulls started leaking in January/February that Hoiberg was going to be the next head coach. Here’s the clip of their conversation during that game:
So while Bulls fans are clamoring for a change in front office, it seems like the same problems that plagued this franchise almost twenty years ago have resurfaced under a new regime. Is this just the way Jerry Reinsdorf does business? If so, we shouldn’t be expecting a championship team in the near future. If Reinsdorf was really willing to let Phil Jackson, who might be the greatest coach ever in NBA history and had already won him 5 championships, walk and by association let the greatest player in the history of basketball walk, then what do we expect from the current Bulls? Jordan made it clear that he wouldn’t be back if Phil and Scottie weren’t there. Here are some free excerpts from the archives of the Chicago Tribune:
- Jordan Makes It Perfectly Clear: If Jackson’s Not Here, He Won’t Be Here Either (October 4th, 1997)
- If It’s Over, Jordan and Jackson Are Comfortable (February 5th, 1998)
- Jordan Says It Again: I’ll Only Play For Phil, Reiterates Link To Jackson (March 23rd, 1998)
Listen to Magic Johnson talk about it above at the beginning of that clip. Bill Walton talked about it in the first quarter of the All-Star game above. It was 100% clear: Michael Jordan, the greatest of all-time, wasn’t playing basketball for the Bulls unless Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen were there. And Jerry Reinsdorf, along with Jerry Krause, were perfectly fine with that. Let that sink in for a minute. They were perfectly fine letting three guys who played major roles in five championships at the time and a 72 win season just walk away. They declared before the season started that that would be Phil Jackson’s last season with the franchise and started promoting Tim Floyd as his successor. Phil Jackson not only brought six titles to Chicago with Jordan, but is also has the highest winning percentage of any coach in team history. We saw this very same scenario play out just two years ago under new management and with Tom Thibodeau, who ironically holds the second highest winning percentage of any coach in team history. And we think this rebuilding effort is going to be any different than the Unbeara-Bulls in 1998-1999? It took a long time for this franchise to rebuild. For every Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, and Ben Gordon there was a Marcus Fizer, an Eddy Curry, and A.J. Guyton. Do we really want to be subjected to that again?
Gar Forman and John Paxson probably need to go, but I’m not optimistic that it will change anything. Obviously, there’s something else about this team that lends itself to self-destruction. This is only the latest example and the rise of social media has made it more public. Let’s face it: The Bulls were fortunate to land Michael Jordan. They were smart to trade for Pippen on draft day and draft Horace Grant. They were wise to make Phil Jackson head coach and were fortunate that he was able to bring it all together. This exact scenario could’ve played out with Derrick Rose. If Rose never tears his ACL, does Jimmy Butler still rise? And if he rises, does he become “Pippen” to Rose’s “Jordan?” I say yes because Jimmy seems intrinsically motivated and still would’ve had the same opportunity to break out due to injuries in 2012-2013 to Hamilton and eventually Luol Deng. If Jimmy breaks out and Rose continues to rise, do the Bulls eventually win a championship under Tom Thibodeau? And if they had won a title with Rose/Butler/Noah/Thibs, does management still force him out in favor of Hoiberg? If not for Derrick Rose tearing his ACL, this exact scenario could have played out.
History tells us what they would’ve chosen: They would’ve chosen Hoiberg still regardless of titles and wins. Bulls management (Reinsdorf included) obviously wants things done on their terms. It’s not an uncommon stance to take, but it’s also a dangerous one for the franchise. Regardless of Thibodeau’s faults, the Bulls were legitimate and appealing when he was there. They had an identity and they had direction. Bulls management decided to sacrifice that to bring in their guy. It’s led to mediocrity and a directionless franchise whose fans are desperate for the team to take action. I found it ironic that John Paxson stated at the end of last season that the only person who was untradeable was Michael Jordan. Apparently, Jordan was expendable as long as Bulls management got to have its way. The Bulls have been in that mode for two years now. Some things will never change.
Brandon Pence is the co-founder of B2 Hoops and the founder/editor emeritus of “The Bulls Charge.” Follow him on Twitter here.