Is there a day during the year when the Chicago Bulls get more flak from fans and media than on the day of the end-of-season press conference?
Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson’s approval rating with fans would probably go up multiple percentage points if he changed up his talking points, or just stopped talking at all.
The 2019 iteration of the fun was as predictable as ever. Obviously, because if it wasn’t predictable then Bulls bingo wouldn’t be a thing.
Boylen is Paxson’s guy
As head coach of the Chicago Bulls this season, Jim Boylen went 17-41 (29.3 percent winning percentage), and that interestingly earned him both effusive praise from his superiors and more-than-cryptic hints that the Bulls are willing to commit to him beyond next season.
“I can tell you this,” Paxson said in his opening statement. “I spent this morning – Jim had a meeting with our players, probably about a half-hour – it was spot on about expectations. I’ve been sitting in on some player end-of-season meetings, and I can tell you that the thing that excites me about our direction with our head coach is his passion and his care level for our players and this organization. He wants to succeed, he wants our players to get better. He has a plan in place for all of them in order to do so this offseason, and that’s very encouraging. I think given the summer and given the opportunity to go into training camp next year with his own beliefs and philosophy will be an advantage for us.”
Other things Paxson praised Boylen for besides how he handled the player-exit meetings (which was multiple times):
- His connections with the players [Zach LaVine did offer to pay his fine after he got tossed against the Los Angeles Clippers so maybe this is a little bit valid?]
- How well he communicates and gets along with his superiors.
Notice it’s all things only John Paxson can see, and stuff that didn’t manifest on the court at all.
Injuries Kill Seasons, but give life to Excuses
To the extent of which Paxson actually addressed the product on the court, he waved it all away with ‘too many injuries’.
But every team deals with injuries during the course of an 82-game NBA season, the Bulls turned historically bad when suffering theirs, and the Bulls use this excuse after every season.
“I think this year was difficult from the standpoint of we had four injuries to key players that we couldn’t anticipate,” he said. “Lauri went down the third practice of training camp to an elbow injury that happened in a scrimmage. Denzel (Valentine) is out the entire year with ankle surgery, and then Wendell (Carter Jr.) falls in L.A. and breaks his thumb, and then Chandler (Hutchison) breaks a toe. Those are four injuries that ended up being, you know, three of them were season-ending. For a team that’s trying to grow and develop that makes it very difficult.”
Obviously, this take on the season is a tad bit hypocritical.
All John Paxson talks about is toughness and personal accountability, yet he's used injuries as an excuse in 90% of these questions.— Ricky O'Donnell (@SBN_Ricky) April 11, 2019
This team would have been lucky to win 30 games totally healthy.
There was a good follow-up question in the session that made Paxson address their protocols when it comes to training and injury. Instead, Paxson blamed the players for not working hard enough - or close enough to them - to avoid breaking down:
“The thing I tried to impress upon players last night is we have everything here for them to work and improve this summer. For players to endure an 82-game season, they have to get stronger and get more powerful. They need to spend more time in the room over here behind us where they use the resources we have. I made that as clear as I could last night to the players. I think our training methods are excellent if the players will buy into them. I’m confident in our training methods. I would like to see our players in this building adhering to that.”
and then this bizarre flex - no pun intended - using Markkanen as an example:
I think Lauri last year for example had a great summer. He had a great summer, got stronger. Our doctors told us that his elbow injury, it’s likely had he not gotten that strength, he would’ve been out the entire year had he not got hurt.
Sounds like science!
Ironically, there was good news yesterday that Markkanen was cleared of any heart scare, but “the cause of Markkanen’s symptoms to be primarily related to a combination of dehydration and nutrient deficiency” . So Lauri must’ve not been ‘adhering’ enough after all?
Expectations for next year
This time last year, the Bulls were talking substantial improvement, and implicitly playoffs. Before this season they made sure to walk that back and set no expectations at all, so they didn’t really fail.
Paxson said something similar yesterday:
“I think our goal next year has to be to be in the hunt [for the playoffs next season],” Paxson said. “We want to be in the hunt again. That’s going to take us being healthy. That’s the first thing.”
Sam Smith had the final question and perceptively mentioned that the Bulls would have to effectively double their win total to be at that level. And implied that was difficult to see without the team getting a star.
This wasn’t the first time in the day that Paxson was asked about the lack of stars or a plan to get any. Paxson went on to say that once the Bulls start to establish a winning culture again, they’ll be able to attract the marquee free agents that they have routinely whiffed on in free agency in the past. And that he wasn’t worried about Boylen’s reputation in attracting top talent because “all the great ones rub people the wrong way”, including Phil Jackson and Paxson himself. True greats, all.
And when it comes to getting a top talent via the draft, Paxson said “luck and hope isn’t a plan”, but did say that there was a silver lining to their awful win total in getting a higher draft selection.
And to the win total, Paxson said they would’ve won a lot more games if healthy. How many, who’s to say? He said his evidence was “in his heart”.
Disappointed in Dunn
Dunn’s points, rebounds, assists, and steals per 36 numbers are down this year compared to last year. So, maybe Kris Dunn isn’t the Chicago Bulls point guard of the future barring massive improvements.
“We have not given up on Kris,” Paxson said. “I think he has defensive abilities. But we have to get better at that position, there’s absolutely no question in my mind. He has an opportunity this summer to improve his game, come back with the mindset of being a true push guard, getting us to play with pace.
Guys like Patrick Beverley and Derrick Rose are rumored to be possible free agent targets. The Bulls will jump all over Ja Morant if he’s available when they pick in the draft.
Time is ticking for Dunn, and may already be up.
Nobody’s going anywhere
During a season where they weren’t supposed to be tanking, the Chicago Bulls finished the season with fewer wins than last season when they were very transparently trying to lose games.
Nonetheless, nothing has changed in terms of General Manager Gar Forman and Paxson’s job security.
Paxson said chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has not given him or general manager Gar Forman a win-now-or-else mandate, though they understand “the reality of this business.” For now, they’re safe and so is Boylen.