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John Paxson’s lack of conviction ruined the Bulls, but staying that way will help them come back

Paxson didn’t save the Bulls from himself

NBA All-Star 2020 Announcement Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

The #FireGarPax movement is over. It was a partial success, with Gar Forman out of a job (though, again, I need evidence that he no longer has domain access). John Paxson remained, but assumed a new title that looks to abdicate decision-making responsibility.

But in a sequence of events installing the new leadership of Arturas Karnisovas that was pretty uniformly glorious, Paxson and the Reinsdorfs couldn’t resist giving another middle-finger to the fans of their franchise. It’s almost as if Michael Reinsdorf (maybe I start using his name, now that he indeed hired Karnisovas and not one of his Dad’s pals?) will happily self-own as long as it means good words are said about Paxson.

This brazenness was first done as a ‘source’ dutifully passed on by KC Johnson:

it was Paxson who first approached Reinsdorf early in the Bulls’ 2019-20 season and told his boss he’d identified the problem with a season that began with such optimism and promise but quickly devolved. Most importantly, he knew how to fix it.

The Bulls, Paxson said, needed to change their front office structure.

Then in a preamble to introducing Karnisovas , here was ‘dorf the younger copping to his own ineptitude:

John Paxson came to me and my dad back — I think it was around December — and we started talking and he felt that we needed, the organization needed, to make a change and an upgrade. He felt that we were too set in our ways. And when you look at it, our basketball department had long been one of the smallest departments in the league and it hadn’t really grown with the times. In John’s words, we needed to make changes in terms of the leadership and structure that would set up the Bulls for the next 10 to 15 years.

During these conversations with John — and there were multiple conversations — John also made it clear to us that he would change his role or step down if that’s what was best for the Chicago Bulls. Because at the end of the day he’s a Chicago Bull and that’s what he cares most about.

Note not only who Reinsdorf did give credit to -the very person responsible for ‘front office structure’ - but who he didn’t: no mention of the fan revolt and apathy, culminating in the public embarrassment of hosting All-Star weekend. Or, no mention of the fact that the results on the court were an embarrassment?

Michael Reinsdorf has shown to be slow on the uptake. Just 13 months ago he admitted to being confused on how anybody could think GarPax weren’t doing a good job and hey why are they called GarPax in the first place? He insisted that the organization was big enough by providing a multiple computer monitor purchasing anecdote. Against all evidence and logic, he spoke to his faith in Jim Boylen and brought Paxson along with him, and reportedly this is still something they believe.

So I suppose maybe Reinsdorf isn’t a liar when he says it took John Paxson himself saying he sucks to recognize that a change was a good idea? He’s just that incompetent and impotent?

Either way, the statement worked on getting reporters to lionize John Paxson towards a different position on the org. chart.

(and this is the ‘negative’ beat guy, ha)

To his credit, Reinsdorf walked things back a bit later when asked about Paxson as the hero catalyst, but still made sure to clarify that he doesn’t know what he’s doing:

“I certainly don’t want to say that what the fans were saying or what our season ticket holders, the people I was reaching out to, were saying didn’t play any effect on me, but it’s not the reason you make changes like this because nobody really knows what’s going on inside the organization … I was really listening to John and looking at the organization and thinking about our process and what was going to happen going forward. And to me, it just seemed like now was definitely the right time to make these changes.”

No, the right time was years ago.

And even if it was known in December, if Paxson and Reinsdorf are telling the truth about the timeline of acknowledging their own failure, it’s then offensive how they lied in the months since to the fanbase on how everything was fine, and later how everything was was still fine except injuries.

This is all very frustrating to think about, and doesn’t portend well for Paxson’s future aptitude as an ‘advisor’. Again: John Paxson usurped Gar’s GM role and made the big move to back Jim friggin’ Boylen!

But while it’s concerning to hear Karnisovas call Pax a ‘well-regarded resource’, there is hope that Paxson’s fecklessness and lack of championship ambition will work in Karinsovas and the Bulls favor going forward. That Paxson was bad at his job, but he knows it and knows not to impact the guy doing the job now.

Because as oblivious as Michael Reinsdorf and John Paxson proved to be, that can be an asset going forward. I want them to have no thoughts or opinions on whatever Karnisovas tries to do.

We’ll have to wait and see if that is the case. A big benchmark will be a coaching search, if DorfPax insist on giving Boylen consideration, or float out other names they know and trust, to even small doubt-sowing like Paxson telling his benefactors “ya know, AK can hire this guy but I wouldn’t have done it”, that will be bad news for this new era.

We know these guys don’t desperately want to win, and wouldn’t commit a significant effort to do so. But they do want credit if there is winning, and maybe that can work to Karnisovas’s advantage. As annoying as it is to hear how inept Paxson and Reinsdorf admit to being, let’s hope they lean into that quality, and stay the hell out of the way.