John Paxson Speaks and What I Would Have Said


Jan 21

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

So are the Bulls going to make a trade?

Are they going to make the playoffs?

How would they rate their rookie coach after a half season?

Is the plan to follow big revenue teams like the Knicks and Pistons and aim toward the talent rich 2010 free agent market?

Bulls general manager John Paxson answered reporters’ questions Wednesday afternoon in open session at the Berto Center practice facility and didn’t give any real hints about the future, though I’ll try to do my best to translate and analyze the way I see it:

On Larry Hughes:

“Larry’s aware that we’re trying to get something done. He’s been very professional. We’re obviously trying to get our younger guys playing time. If we can get something done, we’d rather do that sooner than later.”

What I think he really wanted to say: Would you stop asking this already. How obvious do we have to be? The guy isn’t playing anymore. We’re trying to trade him. His agent said he’ll find a deal. Guess what, he’s still here. The Cavs tried to trade him for a year and we only made that deal—and we’d do it again—for a useful, hard working player like Drew Gooden and a chance to move on from Ben Wallace. We’ll keep trying. We might have to make a deal that doesn’t look so great from a basketball standpoint just to get him out of here. But it’s not like we’re getting bombarded with calls for him. And him complaining like he has about playing time and shots has been a killer. He’s got to know the more he complains the harder he is to trade because teams hear and see this, and yet this goes on every few days. Hello, Larry, anyone in there?

Do you think you’ll make a trade?

“Any time deals come up there’s usually some type of money issue that gets in the way. We’re looking. Players can’t be looking over their shoulder all the time, either. They have to accept they have to play and compete and perform. My job is to field that team. Right now, we’re not the type of team that I want. What’s inhibiting a lot of deals is the luxury tax because you have a ton of teams right up against it. In order to do a deal, the dollars have to work within a very small amount of money. Paying the tax is a real issue, especially with some of the things going on in the world business-wise. It’s just a smart move to be respectful of what that tax means.”

What I think he really wanted to say: We’re right up against the luxury tax. We’ll go into the luxury tax to make a move that would be major for our franchise or give us a chance to make a significant playoff run. This franchise has done that. In the Jordan era, the Bulls had the highest payroll in the NBA. But if we take on, say, a player earning $300,000 more than we give up, the money above the luxury tax doubles and there are millions of dollars in penalties. So would you give up Thabo Sefolosha and take back someone like Corey Maggette when he would cost you maybe $10 million extra and maybe also put you out of a chance for free agents. C’mon. And when you’re playing below .500 teams downgrade your players and want to steal them. Does adding a Nocioni or Hinrich give someone a championship? So they want to give you guys with long term contracts making too much money who aren’t producing. Believe me, I’d love to shake this team up with some deals.

What’s your feeling about your new coach?

“The only person I’ll evaluate right now is myself and I obviously haven’t done the job of putting the type of team that I want to have on the floor in terms of competitiveness and effort. That falls on me. That’s the only person I’m going to critique. That’s the way it is.”

What I think he really wanted to say: What do you expect me to say? We hired a guy who’d never coached before and he’s supposed to be Red Auerbach in 41 games? I’m not thrilled with everything that’s gone on, especially on defense. But, what, a half dozen coaches have been fired already and have you taken a look at how those teams are doing since? And who exactly is out there who’s so great he’s going to make such a difference. And if he is, how come a half dozen teams are using assistant coaches or front office guys who’ve never coached? Let’s give the guy a chance. Coaches get way too much credit when they’re winning and too much blame when they’re losing. It’s supposed to be a learning curve, which means you don’t come in knowing it all. You think he let Mike Bibby steal the ball in the backcourt all those times last night? We’ve also got to take responsibility for what we do on the court. A lot of these guys have played a lot of basketball.

What about that defense?

“It’s two things. The level of personal commitment to that side has to be there. And paying attention to whatever the scheme is you’re trying to run. I know Vinny and his staff have tried to simplify a lot of things we’re doing defensively to try to get consistent at something. But if you go back to before the season when people asked me what I was most concerned about, I said the defense. I was worried about that end. Quite honestly, even though we haven’t always been consistent moving the ball offensively, I still think offensively we can score enough. But we’re giving up far too many points and far too many easy points. The defensive end has to get better or we’re going to continue like we’re continuing.”

What I think he really wanted to say: When we hired Vinny he talked about defense and that’s going to be the test and what we’re going to hold him to. We told him going in we understood the situation and while it would be good for development to make the playoffs, the idea was to develop that defensive identity and improve as the season progressed. We have to do a better job with that defense. We’re making some strides, but we’re all force feeding young guys into the lineup to see whether we want to commit to them beyond this season. Like anybody in a new job, Vinny was trying to impress and at first trying to put in everything he could think of and it was too much with young players with all the injuries. We told him to back off, but he’s got to concentrate on the defensive side of the ball. We’re not panicking and we’re not going to make rash decisions.

You said you wanted to regain your work ethic and identity. Where do you assess that?

“It’s not good enough. I think the inconsistency speaks to the injuries we had early on. This isn’t an excuse but finding a group that played together, rotations, all those things were hard on the staff. But it also comes from lack of trust in each other on the floor. If you’re willing to move the ball, you have to live with the guy getting the open shot, make or miss.”

What I think he wanted to say: Yes, we had injuries. Look, we were talking about starting Kirk at one point and he basically doesn’t play until January. Then Lu’s in and out. So Derrick played and had to play a lot and there was a lot of buildup and excitement with guys all over the league already talking about rookie of the year, and, it’s natural and we shouldn’t be surprised, but there probably was jealousy of this kid coming in and getting all the attention and guys are saying, “I’ve been in the second round of the playoffs and all they talk about is this kid who hasn’t played three games.” How was it at your office after working there 20 years and winning awards and they hire someone new and he or she gets all the good assignments? Were you out there helping that person get better so they could get even more praise? Derrick is such a good and humble kid and great rookie, doing all the little stuff like carrying luggage and bringing in donuts that I think a lot of that is wearing away. But it takes time to get past and is hardly unique to our team. And even tougher with our team as we understood since we hired a coach with no previous experience with anything like this.

So how would you analyze the team?

“We’re not very good right now. We’re not playing well enough to win those games in my opinion. I don’t expect any of our guys to sulk. They have to come to practice every day and work. It’s a lot of little things. Turnovers we had throwing the ball away in the backcourt. It’s just concentration and focus. I’m not going to say I’m pleased we’ve been competing better because we want to win. I don’t like where we’re at. I don’t think anybody does.”

What I think he wanted to say: Yes, I picked the players, so point at me. But I’m also going to do something about it. We were in the toilet when I took over, coaching chaos, players without responsibility, a lack of accountability. I set out to get guys who would overcome that and be pros and represent this organization the right way and not embarrass us and begin to grow. We got on the right track and did a lot of that and you liked this team. Then we took a step back. I messed up some draft picks, but a lot of those guys who knew how to win games are still here, and we lucked into a kid who may be a legit star. You know what? We didn’t deserve it, but now it’s up to us—to me—to make it work from here and I’m going to do that. No more favorites and no more excuses. Guys will play and be held accountable and we’ll make the changes we have to. We’re not giving up and we haven’t lost hope. This is going to get a lot better.

What about Rose? Are you wearing him out?

“I wouldn’t say that. I’m not sure what’s expected. He’s playing very well. He’s going to have games where he doesn’t play as well as he would like. Every rookie. I haven’t seen one that doesn’t have some ups and downs. I don’t care how good they area. He’s doing fine.”

What I think he wanted to say: Hello? Are you watching the games? This kid is a prodigy. No one comes into the NBA at that position other than the all-time greats and does what he does, and with a team with injuries, a rookie coach and the uncertainty we’re in. I just love watching the kid play. I haven’t seen explosion like that to the basket from a point guard maybe ever. That’s why we know there’s hope. We went for talent and character and got that. We didn’t get a star. You need stars, and there were no obvious ones. I thought we had a chance to trade for one and I made some amazing offers for Garnett. Who exactly that we’ve let go is an All-Star? Yeah, Brandon Roy is good, but a lot of teams passed on him and we had plenty of guards. We needed size and everyone was screaming for an athlete, so maybe we hoped a little bit with Tyrus. You have to take chances sometimes in the draft, and we got rotation players but not a star. Now we have one who can be and that’s why I’m not as depressed as I could be.

So Luol Deng since his return?

“He’s been good, real active. He’s running the floor and doing the things he does well. We get mired in quick shots that always hurt you as a team. If they don’t go in, you have no floor balance and your transition defense is poor. Then other guys start hunting for their shots because they haven’t touched the ball for awhile. Lu isn’t a quick shot player. He needs an offensive flow. When he’s at his best, we’re moving the ball.”

What I think he wanted to say: I know a lot of you think we overpaid and Lu isn’t the most athletic high flyer in the league. But he works hard, fills up the box score and would be a solid contributor and starter on just about any team. A guy like Lu suffers when others get selfish and sit on the ball, and a lot of that happened last season. A superstar? Maybe not. But you don’t need five. What we paid him isn’t going to hinder us if we go into a free agency mode for 2010 and we could still get far enough under the cap to go for two free agents. They have to play with someone. That was the deal in those Kobe talks which was just hocus pocus. They were never trading Kobe to us. But we were talking to Kobe’s people and it wasn’t like we wouldn’t trade Lu for Kobe. That’s ridiculous. Kobe wanted guys to play with and liked Lu and wanted him here if he came. He wasn’t coming and they were not about to let him go with two years on his contract.

So is the plan to go for 2010 and big free agents?

“If it comes to that, I want to try to make our team better today. 2010 is a long way off. There are always avenues you can go down to get off contracts. Teams like a lot of our pieces because they fit an established star. And that’s what we’re trying to find, another established player to put alongside Rose.”

What I think he wanted to say: We have guys we can trade for cap room in a second. But you need a team to attract guys, and that may be one issue with the Knicks and Lebron. I think we can add a good player along the way and then dip into that market. We have things to sell now we didn’t in 2000. We’ve purged the end of the Krause era, though no one should forget Jerry has six titles, and the bad feelings Jordan and Pippen were spreading around the league from leaving. We’ll have good players in place with a potential star in Rose and the kind of star that attracts other stars because Derrick doesn’t want to be the star and score all the points. It’s going to be hard to get two of these guys because they all want to be “the Man.” If you come here, Derrick will get you the ball. But we want to continue to get better. We learned from 2000, guys don’t want to come if you are stripped bare and losing 60 games. We’re not going there. There are good guys who are going to come on the market this summer and we’re going to be a player.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: