The last time the Bulls were at the onset of a major rebuild, John Paxson knew exactly who he wanted to hire. The Bulls had just become the unlikely winner of the 2008 draft lottery and they needed a coach to shape their next era. That coach could have been Mike D’Antoni, but the Bulls tapped out of a bidding war with the Knicks. The next name on their list was Doug Collins.
For a few days, it seemed certain Collins would be Derrick Rose’s first coach, just as he was Michael Jordan’s. There was only one reason Collins didn’t get the job: owner Jerry Reinsdorf was so close to him he couldn’t stand the thought of again firing his friend.
"I love Doug Collins," Reinsdorf told the Tribune at the time. "It's not a great thing for friends to jeopardize a relationship for business. And relationships with coaches always end at some point.”
Don’t confuse that quote as a measured approach from Bulls management. In reality, Reinsdorf was telling on himself. This has always been a franchise that values personal relationships over the pursuit of new information, loyalty over ambition and complacency over winning. It’s exactly what led them back to Doug Collins on Tuesday.
If the hiring of Collins to a senior advisor role technically came out of the blue, it hardly felt like a surprise. The Bulls will paint this as an opportunity to add a fresh set of eyes to their makeover, the chance to bring a new voice to the room as they embark on another rebuild nine years later. That is, of course, bullshit: Doug Collins isn’t a shift from the status quo, he is the status quo.
Even when the Bulls try to change, they inevitably remain the exact same.
The Bulls were right about one thing: they need different voices to be heard. Doug Collins is not that voice. This is a man who only five years ago responded to a question about analytics by saying “I’d rather blow my brains out,”. There’s value to having an old head in your basketball operations department, but not when the entire department is old heads.
What John Paxson and Gar Forman really need is someone to challenge them. The lack of accountability at the top of the franchise has made the Bulls fat and lazy, a team that will look everywhere for a scapegoat except for the mirror. It’s that thinking that led this franchise to believe Jimmy Butler was the problem instead of the solution. It’s the reason they’re still bringing up Rose’s injuries up five years later as if that caused them to whiff on every draft pick since 2011 or get conned into giving Dwyane Wade a contract no one else would offer.
The real problem with the Bulls is that they don’t see a problem. This is what happens when you still lead the league in attendance last year even though everyone around the team hated each other. This is what happens when the truth is obscured by profits.
Hiring Collins changes none of that. This is a not an objective advisor brought in to fix the pattern of self-satisfaction that’s killing this proud franchise. This is another yes man whose job is only to affirm that the Bulls are doing this rebuild The Right Way, according to them.
When the 76ers found themselves at a similar crossroads in 2013, the first thing they did was cut ties with Doug Collins. Sam Hinkie came in and brought a new approach to the organization. That rebuild was long and painful, but there’s no denying its fruits. Philadelphia was smart enough to know Collins couldn’t provide the perspective they needed when they were starting from square one.
The Bulls are about to embark on their own version of “The Process,” only one devoid of all enthusiasm. Sixers fans could talk themselves into tanking because they knew they always had the smartest person the room. To put it gently, Bulls fans can not find the same level of solace.
If anything, the hiring of Collins is just more confirmation of how little effort Reinsdorf’s Bulls really put into this. When it was time to add a new voice, the Bulls found the most comfortable one they know. This is no change, only another declaration that the Bulls believe they know exactly what they’re doing, despite all evidence to the contrary.