To understand why the Bulls need Doug Collins as a GM and not a coach, you have to understand how the Bulls work. OK, I wrote this with the intent to add in a whole bit set of links, but I'm super busy this week and just want to get it out there on the cusp of Vinny finally getting canned and the lightly reported seeming news of Paxson's mystery departure/demotion to consultant land from Executive VP land.
1. Jerry Reinsdorf runs the Chicago Bulls. This can be summed up by how Vinny Del Negro's imminent since December firing has been handled. Instead of just saying "thank you, please don't come to work again" last week, the Bulls needed to wait for the Chairman to come to town from vacation. Back when his firing was originally imminent, it was reported that Reinsdorf was concerned about replacing him due to monetary issues. He wasn't replaced. Later in the season, John Paxson assaulted Del Negro, so I'm going to wildly speculate that it was not Paxson who decided to keep Vinny around. It's been reported that Del Negro was, in fact, never Paxson's choice in the first place, but Reinsdorf's. Further, notice that Vinny got an interview with Reinsdorf Sunday, and now Reinsdorf is thinking it over. No decision until tomorrow, although it's very likely Vinny will be axed.
These are the actions of a guy who is significantly involved in the decision-making of his team. Obviously some ownership involvement is to be expected in any major decision. But the point with Reinsdorf is there's a level of activity there beyond merely asking questions and then signing off on or vetoing the decisions made by his trusted basketball executives. That is, Reinsdorf seems to inject himself into the decision-making process (Bulls buzzword!) in a way that most owners don't.
And this situation is not limited to coaching. Various reports over time have suggested his voice weighed heavily in contract and player/coach/executive acquisition and retention selections.
Reinsdorf has suggested that running the team is not that difficult. Like a coin operated car wash, even! I don't know about that, and I don't even think it's worth praising or criticizing Reinsdorf here. He's the controlling owner of the team, so if he wants to interject himself into its affairs, he's got every right to. My point is simply to acknowledge he does, since some folks seem to think otherwise. But to me, the next relevant question then becomes how can Reinsdorf go about making decisions in the best way for him.
2. Jerry Reinsdorf is all about loyalty. If you want a short and to the point proof of this, look at the fact he just hired freaking Jerry Krause again. Again, you can praise or criticize, but there's not much point in denying this fact. Some guys he seems to want to reward, and some guys he seems to just want gone, no matter what they do. Generally there's no telling with him who the next Waylon Smithers is, and who the next Homer Simpson is. Which, if it's true Reinsdorf was the brains behind the Vinny hiring, might explain why he's getting a hearing with the Chairman rather than a summary dismissal.
The more practical side of all of this is that Reinsdorf is inclined to give people lots of chances. Hence, even when John Paxson apparently wanted to quit, Reinsdorf wouldn't let him.
3. Jerry Reinsdorf might be very loyal to John Paxson, but he has deep misgivings about him when it comes to making basketball decisions. Pax wanted Mike D'Antoni and recommended him to Reinsdorf, who seemed, based on various other comments, to be lukewarm about his style of play. A weird meeting with Reinsdorf, and D'Antoni signs with the Knicks. The rest of that coaching search was odd too, with Reinsdorf publicly commenting on Paxson's struggling with it, various reports of Doug Collins being involved either giving advice or as the coach at Reinsdorf's behest, and the ultimate hiring of Del Negro, again possibly at Reinsdorf's beheast despite Paxson's not being on board with it. There's various other oddness, like Pax being taken out of the Luol Deng contract negotiation. Heck, Reinsdorf didn't even let Pax quit when he wanted to quit.
All of this is to say that when it comes to the biggest decisions the Bulls have made over the last couple years, there's a fair amount of evidence that the chief basketball guy was pushing for a different direction, or at least perhaps not in complete lockstep with the owner. Which is ok, but in this case, a GM needs to be able to get completely on the same page, or he needs to convince his owner to get on the same page. The evidence suggests something is amiss here. It doesn't have to be a situation where everyone hates each other. Rather, just the opposite. Everyone likes each other, a lot, and that makes it difficult for each side to recognize they're not acting consistently.
So there are two ways to look at this. On the one hand, you can say if Paxson was more convincing, he could lead Reinsdorf in a better direction. Or you can say if Reinsdorf were hearing more of what he wanted to hear from Paxson, he wouldn't go in a different direction. Either way, it's a bit of a dysfunctional system. But you can't put it on Reinsdorf, because ultimately, it's his team.
So the right thing for him to do is to hire an executive who will either execute Reinsdorf's vision of how things ought to be, or be convincing enough to Reinsdorf that the latter gets on board with the executive and truly lets him run the show. The sort of problems we see now are because we're neither here nor there, possibly out of Reinsdorf's sense of loyalty. He doesn't want to fire Paxson, but he feels compelled to make strategic decisions that, under normal circumstances, would be Paxsons to make. Uncomfortable.
4. Doug Collins is the right guy to GM the Bulls because he's uniquely qualified. Not only does he have the sort of resume, experience, and league-wide respect and clout you'd want from any GM candidate, he's unique in that Reinsdorf values and respects his opinion. Not that he doesn't respect Paxson's, but there's all the stuff I just mentioned in point 3. By comparison, Collins doesn't have that negative track record (although maybe he does... he might have been the guy to suggest Vinny). Beyond that, he's got a vast amount more experience around the league than Paxson did at his hiring, or realistically, probably does now. Paxson was, essentially, hired on the merit of being an in-house employee. Collins not only has that loyalty item down, he could be hired on his own merits for this job.
As such, hiring him as GM makes a lot of sense to me. By virtue of his merits, it's at least plausible he'll have a bit more pull and trust with Reinsdorf than Paxson has had over the last couple years. And by virtue of their long long personal association, it's likely Collins will be trusted to do things "the Reinsdorf way", with less supervision. And if he doesn't do something, there's a deeper resevoir of independence (from Reinsdorf) trust and experience that might allow Collins some extra leeway.
5. While Collins would be a great GM hire, he'd be a terrible coaching hire. Perhaps much like Paxson, Collins gets very emotional in game situations, while his greatest strengths are his basketball mind, his contacts and reputation around the league. While being a coach certainly requires smarts, it emphasizes what are probably Collins' greatest flaws. While working as a GM would allow him to directly work on, for example, exploiting his Team USA associations. And from a Bulls perspective, Reinsdorf has said it would be emotionally difficult to fire Collins. Well, coaches have only a couple year shelf life most of the time. So he's gonna have to. As a GM, however, this would probably be quite a bit less of an issue.
So add everything up, and it's a no brainer that this is the direction the Bulls need to go. It's no so much that Reinsdorf is horrible or Paxson is horrible, but to be successful, the guys running a pro sports team need to be absolutely in lock step in terms of their decision-making process. Doug Collins is the one guy available who is not only qualified in general, but also might be able to take the team in that direction.
Original Version, which might be updated with more links at some point, is here on S2.