Back in 2003 when Kirk Hinrich was drafted in John Paxson's first selection as Bulls GM, I was convinced he was going to immediately trade him. While Dookie Kenevel had already hurt himself jumping snake river canyon, Jamal Crawford was still on the team and I didn't understand the strategy in drafting another point guard. I guess it was my fault for not listening to enough of Paxson as the Bulls radio color man, as he had a well-known disapproval of Crawford's play and he certainly wasn't going to let Crawford's place on the roster determine who he'd draft. Hinrich had a rough start to his career but finished with a successful rookie season, and Crawford was shipped to wacky Isaiah's basketball player depot.
But I don't think this is like 2003, when Paxson was inheriting Krause's players. The players currently on the roster are guys he's drafted, and are known quantities to him in both their performance and the off-court intangibles. Normally I'd say Pax gets an unfair label of always taking the safe pick, but I believe Pax when he says there is no truly great player in this years draft, so being 'safe' is all he can do. So here's what I think will happen tomorrow:
If Pax takes Thomas, Gay, or Morrison, my instinct is that he's drafting for another team. It'll manifest itself either in a trading-down scenario, or in a blockbuster deal where the Bulls trade the player(s) picked and some rotation guys for the 'superstar'.
I just can't see Pax overhauling the team by dealing the current core to accommodate either of these guys. And I similarly can't see him wanting to spend the season having position battles and trying to incorporate rookies into forced roles. LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy (and to a lesser extent Bargnani...I'm not sure if the Bulls have gotten enough looks at him to think he'd be right here) are players who will show up to training camp with a defined role, an added piece to the machine Pax has built. And I believe they have the best chance of immediate success with the current team.
I don't feel this scenario is the same thing as strictly drafting need over talent. Unless there is a transcendent talent at the top, it's silly to just say 'take the best player available'. The best player available isn't necessarily the best for the Bulls, and that player's talent won't show and develop if the team doesn't need them.
However, strictly taking the best player available may still be the best draft choice for use in an immediate trade. I have a feeling that while Pax is aware of the potential in this draft, he also doesn't think it's that spectacular to want to spend the next few years developing it. We've all seen in these past few weeks how the draft process makes us exaggerate these draftees' abilities. And maybe Pax can use the draft day hysterics to make some other GM think they just have to have 'their guy' as the Bulls take him off the board.
Whenever talking about the Bulls' moves, Pax always references their ultimate pursuit of a 7th title. And he knows that it takes an outstanding talent to get you there. But he also has said over his tenure that continuity is more important than mortgaging the team's assets for a player that won't get you much closer to the elite class in the league. That's why I feel he'll take the player with the best 'fit' in this draft, and if not...look for the coming trade.
Am I convinced that this is what Pax will do? If you can't tell by the tone of this post: absolutely not. This draft drove me insane 2 weeks ago and I haven't gotten any less confused. My biggest assumption in writing the above is that Pax truly believes there is no superstar talent in this draft, which might not be true. And that Aldridge and Roy did enough to impress the Bulls, and that Pax loves his core players as much as he lets on. It's possible I've gotten lots of smoke in my eyes this past month.
Right or wrong, when we see David Stern announce the Bulls' pick we won't feel disappointed, because even if it's not our guy, remember the Bulls' fan credo: in Pax we trust.
Alright, so that's my final draft post. Try and keep your draft-day thoughts in this thread, and while I'll be at the draft outing, feel free to stop here and chat it up on draft night, I'm sure there will be plenty of activity.
Oh, and I almost forgot: Instead of listening to the sure-to-be-horrid ESPN telecast, listen to the live CelticsStuff podcast instead. Sure it may be a little Celts-centric, but more importantly it'll be all draft talk. I've been listening to their show for a while and they are a much better listen than Dick Vitale whining about teams passing on J.J. 'doctor says I need a back-eotomy' Redick.