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The real reason why the Bulls were so interested in Cameron Payne

the ever-looming specter of Bulls legend Tim Floyd

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls big acquisition this past trade deadline was Cameron Payne, a 2nd year point guard who’s only shown to be bad so far in his career. He’s still only 22, and battled foot problems since coming in the league (though that’s obviously more concerning than explanatory), and under his rookie-scale contract. Plus he plays a position of need, though the Bulls have accumulated several guys with similar status already this very season.

But why Payne in particular? Here is what John Paxson said the night of the trade, part of his awful press conference with Gar Forman:

When Cam came out in the draft, we were very, very high on him. We had some real good discussion about even trying to get him in that draft. We see him as a young guy who will develop and get better.

You have to see Bulls scouting with the established (if speculative) context that they’re the most under-resourced and lazy group in the league. I have zero faith that they’ve done any NBA-level scouting on Payne versus his work against the Ohio Valley Conference 3 years ago.

But even for their vaunted draft boards, why Cameron Payne? I’ve found the answer: as always, it goes back to Tim Floyd.

There’s a long-running joke from the Bulls front office (it’s funnier for us than them, I think) that they target players from Iowa, a group more colloquially known as the #AmesMafia. And it’s true that Payne’s head coach at Murray State is the same guy who took over for Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State University.

But it goes deeper than that. It’s not so much the geography as it is the relationship of Tim Floyd and Gar Forman, who Floyd brought with him as part of his disastrous post-dynasty run as Bulls head coach. As you know, while Floyd was punted, Forman has since managed to stick around for nearly 2 decades and get promoted to GM by exhibiting talents of showing up and not losing the team much money.

And along the way there are myriad examples of Forman going to Floyd’s coaching tree (of which he is a big dull branch) to find executives, coaches, and players. His Bulls just sent two out in Taj Gibson (played for Floyd at USC) and Doug McDermott (literally from Ames, IA).

There will be a bigger and better version of the big Bulls cronyism flowchart some day (half the summer league invites, to start), but know that Cameron Payne is now just another part of it.

You can tie the Bulls interest in Payne back to current Iowa State assistant coach William Small. Small is credited with recruiting Payne to Murray State, and was an assistant coach there before his current position at ISU. Again, being in the state of Iowa isn’t the real connection: no, Small is big because after 2010 he worked at UTEP under...Tim Floyd.

We have every reason to be cynical about this. The Bulls scouting, for any level of the organization, don’t value performance or talent as much as they use their connections. There was no national coaching search to replace Tom Thibodeau, just had to call a guy from who you once bought their house. And there’s no draft modeling or exhaustive college (let alone NBA!) scouting when finding players, it’s just call up fellow Tim Floyd cronies and ask who they like. You have to admit it’s a real time-saver.

Cameron Payne could still work out. Hell, Taj Gibson himself was a fantastic draft pick. But Payne’s success wouldn’t be because the Bulls scoured young NBA talent to find a prospect, it’ll be because some guy they know recommended him and got lucky.