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John Paxson: it’s not my fault or Jim Boylen’s fault that our players are dumb soft children

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the Bulls VP spoke, and made clear he and his coach are doing a good job

Bulls fall to 7th pick in the 2019 NBA draft lottery Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

We were all wondering when the architect of this broken down shack of a team would dare address anyone outside their building. And though the weekend started with the notice that John Paxson wouldn’t be providing his annual Christmas Day radio interview (via), he found maybe the only time where less attention would be on him: a Saturday night before Bears-Packers.

Paxson spoke individually to ‘selected’ media, as far as I can tell that includes The Athletic, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Daily Herald, and team-owned outlets. He gave remarkably similar statements to each beat reporter, none of which were inspiring. That is also not too surprising: though he is better than the exiled Gar Forman, Paxson isn’t really that much better at communicating his vision. Though it’s the vision itself that’s the major problem.

But it did at least provide some confirmation in what we thought they were thinking, and it’s still objectively good that someone above Boylen at least said something, as they are clearly embarrassed by the stuff their head coach says in the face of mounting losses. But Paxson did not offer anything much different than the usual mumbo-Jimbo from his most recent coaching hire.

The Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations, like Boylen, does not consider ‘losing a bunch of games against an easy schedule while individual players are stagnating or regressing’ much of a problem worth anything actionable. From the outset here, Paxson dismissed a coaching change as an unrealistic ‘quick fix’:

I’m in lockstep with Jim and his commitment to where we want to get to. That’s not wavering at all.

Boylen is performing to an audience of one (who’s liking it)

Paxson only had praise for Boylen’s coaching, going into a lot of the same stuff he did before, mostly seeing Boylen as a teacher and good for individual player development. Other positive traits including ‘caring’ and ‘grinding’.

Paxson also emphasized Boylen’s sycophancy as a positive:

Paxson said his relationship with Boylen is “good,” and he listed that dynamic among the reasons he feels comfortable sticking with the coach. Paxson has long trumpeted Boylen’s communication skills with all corners of the franchise as one of his strengths.

“He’s very open to ideas and feedback,” Paxson said. “I’ve sat in on a lot of film sessions. And the things he’s trying to emphasize to our players are good....

“We all have to give time to a staff. Every coach, I don’t care who they are, needs to grow and learn. And he’s receptive to that. That relationship is good, and we’re just going to keep going forward, we’re going to keep grinding.”

...

“Honestly, I don’t want to share the internal discussions he and I have,” Paxson said. “What I will tell you is that he’s very receptive to how he can be a better coach. And I think that’s a good thing.

“To his credit, when I go in after a game and visit with him...he always asks me, ‘OK, be honest with me. What’d you think?’ There aren’t many people like that. We’re all trying to grow.”

This certainly reads like John Paxson is the puppeteer of Boylen’s, at least the culture-setting and leadership aspects of the job. So it stands as reasonable why Paxson isn’t criticizing Boylen: because the ball coach is just doing what Paxson wants.

(Paxson’s own experience in coaching is 1 year under Phil Jackson after which he quit to spend more time with family and Neil Funk.)

Fault the young dudes

It’s painfully apparent that there’s this glaring disconnect between what Paxson sees in the building with Boylen doing this great job, juxtaposed with the team being an abject disaster in the first 30 games of the season. They’re neither winning games or showing much development from their prized young core.

Paxson does acknowledge this. Saying that the record has fallen short of his expectations that were pushed to the fanbase prior to this season.

But to him, the culprit is not the coaching front-office synergy of JohnJim PaxBoy, it’s the players:

A lot of it is on the player to work and to show that he can take what he’s doing on the practice floor and get it out to the game floor and make a difference.

We all, me in particular, expected us to have more wins than we do now. But I do see things that are being taught and emphasized and worked on, and the consistency isn’t there. And that’s cost us games.

The big losses are the ones where I say to myself, ‘Why aren’t guys fighting?’ Maybe some of it’s youth and you get down and you drop your head? I don’t know....We have had leads that we haven’t really had in the past, and we have let a lot of those go. But that speaks to that consistency component. It just hasn’t been there.

And it’s not that he and Boylen’s coaching ‘systems’ are poor or ill-fitting, it’s that his players can’t be expected to handle any new system.

“I probably underestimated putting in a new system,” Paxson said. “The one thing that I learned in that is when you’re trying to learn a new system, you don’t always play instinctually. You kind of are trying to do the right things. The instinctual part of basketball should come with our guys. You also factor in a lot of our guys are young that we’re counting on. So they’re still trying to find their way.

And of course since it’s John Paxson, he noted that players are more empowered “in this day and age”, and referred to the professionals in his employ as children:

We have to continue to try to develop our young kids and play them and see what we have. The one thing that I would hope would happen as we further get into this is the guys do start playing with more confidence and more instincts on the floor. I think that’s where they’re struggling a little bit.

And that they’re soft:

One of the struggles that we’ve had is that when physicality presents itself to them in a game, they don’t always respond. That’s just a truth, and that’s cost us in a lot of games.

this is all according to plan (that keeps changing)

I think we’ve at least learned the reason why Boylen himself is so comfortable with all the losing and his own poor performance (don’t some coaches get coach-of-the-year honors in their first season?).

There may be expectations, but there’s no pressure from management if those expectations aren’t reached, and management certainly doesn’t feel pressure on themselves. Paxson did give cursory attention to flailing attendance, but it just gave him a chance to echo his wildly incorrect philosophy that Chicago fans are uniquely enthused by ‘grit’ or whatever instead of having stars and being good.

We knew Jim Boylen wasn’t changing, and these Paxson quotes reiterate the front office is not going to change things either. And it’s likely because this is all being implemented according to plan, it’s just those dang results that are elusive. Paxson embarked on this rebuild/cash-grab saying it was ‘jump-started’ after the Butler trade, then after two years of excuses pledged that this year we’d see the team accelerate towards competitiveness instead of tanking.

Now Paxson, like Boylen, is trying to move the goalposts by emphasizing how young and newly-together the team is, as if to suggest a more rapid improvement is unreasonable.

Mike McGraw at the Daily Herald did the best job of getting Paxson to focus on not just being the decider of this Boylen debacle, but the entire rebuild in the first place. Flat-out asked Paxson why he decided to go this route when he has an obvious disdain for young players and manufactured losing.

I swear to you I am not making this quote up:

in this day and age when you have to make commitments to players financially* and that type of thing, I felt, and I think we all did that we were plugging holes. Every year we were plugging holes and that wasn’t sustainable. “Not making excuses, but when Derrick got hurt....

(*McGraw correctly surmised this nonsense as SUPERMAX boogeyman logic)

Nothing to see here, all is well

McGraw pressed Paxson on not just the Boylen hire but to address the entire five-year fuckup train his management team has presided over, pointing out that even if we strain for positives like Wendell Carter looking like a good defensive center, they are “light-years from title contention”.

So I asked Paxson if they’ve taken a critical look at why so many recent decisions have gone awry. “I’m constantly looking at that, but I’m not going to share with anybody what I share with our ownership group. I’ll just leave that one at that.

To us, anyway, Paxson is not taking any kind of critical look. He’s denying that even anything is off course in the first place: he’s actually seen this growth, alongside Jim Boylen, in their building. Nobody else has seen this, but as Paxson said himself in these interviews: “I’m not going to convince anyone of anything else, and I’m never going to try.”

So while it’s good that John Paxson didn’t turtle away for the whole winter, he isn’t going to save this disaster because it’s one of his own doing.

It won’t be saved from higher up either: Paxson’s boss is busy, and the boss’s son is easily duped and of no consequence anyway.

The likely outcome for this season is Boylen stays through the end of the year, and the team provides just enough wins to fuel more bullshit on how this is all still going fine. Where Paxson can claim he requires more patience while rebuilding the team like it’s 2006 and that the tough-minded Bulls fanbase will fondly hope for mere competitive spirit from their favorite basketball team.

But Paxson has revealed himself yet again as way too insulated and stuck in the past. It seems totally lost to Paxson that maybe other teams besides the Chicago Bulls are also ‘grinding’ with a high ‘care factor’ too. The advantage these other teams have is with management and ownership caring enough to actually make changes. The fans perspective may be ‘outside’, but it’s informative, and it wonders why the team has a lead executive stuck fifteen years in the past, with his latest and perhaps most damaging big move being steering and encouraging his hand-picked embarrassment of a coach to stay that way too.