John Paxson Rumors
Sam: I do have to defend the Bulls on this one as it has become sort of a smear campaign, that big lie thing that if you say a lie often enough people will believe it. The parting with Vinnie went badly and John Paxson did regret the events and apologized. As a result, he hasn’t had much interaction with Thibodeau. But the Bulls often have been more generous to their coaches than I would have been. Doug Collins and Jackson still remain close with Bulls management, Paxson and Collins still emailing almost weekly. Collins received championship jewelry from the team to thank him for his contributions even though he was fired two years before the first title. And despite Jerry Krause’s open courtship of Tim Floyd, Reinsdorf offered Jackson a multiyear deal at the league’s highest salary to begin a post-Jordan rebuilding. Jackson declined as he didn’t want to be involved in rebuilding. Tim Floyd quit and Reinsdorf paid him the full two years left on his contract. Scott Skiles told management he couldn’t coach the players anymore. They let him go, but they cancelled the offset in his contract so he could go to the Bucks and double dip with two salaries instead of the Bulls getting his Bucks salary. And though there was bitterness at Thibodeau’s discharge, no one in 20 years had hired Thibodeau to be head coach until the Bulls did. And then they gave him a generous contract extension and he’ll make $9 million the next two years. It doesn’t exactly suggest a pattern of coaching abuse.
This time, management had to be far more calculating in crushing the coach’s credibility and contributions, both inside and outside the facility. They appeared to be part of a public campaign to dehumanize Thibodeau, picking apart his tactical acumen and portraying him as an uncaring ogre. Players had a sympathetic ear with management and medical staff.
Over and over, those listening to John Paxson and Gar Forman would tell you that Bulls management could never make peace with the praise heaped upon Thibodeau for 60-victory seasons and deep playoff runs. For them, it was too much about the best defense in the NBA, too much about his development of journeymen into rotation contributors, good players into All-Stars, great players into an MVP.
As of Wednesday, all remained quiet as far as the job status of Thibodeau. That doesn’t mean details of the frayed relationship between coach and front office haven’t stopped permeating throughout the league. While there had been reports of Bulls VP of basketball operations John Paxson trying to force-feed an offensive-minded presence on Thibodeau and his staff last summer, that so-called would-be assistant coach went nameless. According to a league source, however, it was former Bulls coach Doug Collins. Considering how close Collins and members of the Bulls front office have remained over the years, it would have been a recipe for disaster. The ultimate act of undermining. Luckily, Thibodeau resisted the idea, as his team went on and finished fourth in the Eastern Conference in offensive efficiency anyway.
On the other side of this contractual and psychological tug of war are Bulls GM Gar Forman and VP John Paxson, who at this point will not fire Thibodeau and let him walk to another NBA city without compensation. In fact, multiple league sources told CBSSports.com Friday that the Bulls’ front office isn’t even compelled to engage in compensation talks with any teams that are interested in their coach until they have a commitment from a replacement who excites them.
KC Johnson: Jimmy Butler thanks Gar Forman and John Paxson for drafting him, says he’s come a long way from Tomball, Texas.
One source indicated that the players have witnessed several blow-ups between the two sides the last few seasons, including one that involved Thibodeau moving a training camp practice to a different court when he felt like VP of basketball operations John Paxson was meddling. Those same players, however, have simply grown immune to it.
Veteran agent David Falk has been a vocal proponent for the NBPA to enforce the rule as it stands. Falk said he would have liked to have represented some of his many former NBA player clients who went into management — including John Paxson, former vice president of the Chicago Bulls; Patrick Ewing, associate head coach of the Charlotte Hornets; and Michael Jordan, owner of the Hornets — but hasn’t because of the rule. “If I had negotiated Patrick Ewing’s coaching contract with Michael Jordan, who am I working for?” Falk said. “They pass conflict-of-interest rules in business, because even if you can’t prove that the conflict is debilitating, the appearance of a conflict is an issue.”
‘‘My dad would never do that,’’ McDermott said. ‘‘He’s a coach, and he has to deal with parents all the time, calling him up all the time. Boosters [and] parents calling all the time about playing time, everything. He would never do that. He has too much respect for the coaches here, [general manager] Gar [Forman] and Pax [vice president of basketball operations John Paxson], all those guys. He would never do that.’’
Bulls rookie forward Doug McDermott was in the locker room before a game last month when he was told about a rumor that his father, Greg, had called the front office to complain about his son’s lack of playing time and about the role coach Tom Thibodeau played in that. ‘‘Trust me, I heard it,’’ McDermott said, acknowledging it was bothersome. ‘‘I actually talked to my dad right after someone brought that to my attention in the locker room. I called him up and was just kind of laughing, almost. He was like, ‘What are you laughing about?’ I said, ‘You hear this rumor going out that you called the front office and stuff?’ He started laughing.’’
KC Johnson: Bulls VP John Paxson: “Hopefully, this is easily corrected and he’ll be better than ever and feeling really good maybe for the first time in long time. Derrick has great character. I personally believe that he’s going to find his way through this.”
Look, Thibodeau is a workaholic when it comes to preparation and effort and he expects his players to do the same — wait, no, he believes in that as the surest way to success. Every player in uniform is at his disposal, which might make some linger a little longer now in street clothes when they’ve been hurting. Management’s imposed limits on minutes, for Derrick Rose and Noah in particular, has led to the coach straining some at the leash. He and his bosses have had frictions in the past, though GM Gar Forman dismissed this week’s drama as any sort of story.
“Tom Thibodeau isn’t being undermined at all,” said John Paxson, executive vice president of basketball operations. “What’s being undermined is the entire Bulls organization by Van Gundy, who has an agenda against our organization for whatever reason and has for years. I guess he thinks he’s trying to protect his friend, but he’s doing just the opposite. It’s pretty pathetic when you think about it, and truth be told he owes Jerry Reinsdorf an apology for his disparaging remarks.”
So in a case like this one, if Thibodeau has lost his locker room, he should not expect a ton of support from management. People close to the organization have told me that relations between Thibodeau and the front office have improved in the two years since assistant coach Ron Adams was let go against Thibodeau’s wishes, but I have heard enough anecdotes from people close to the team to realize that Thibodeau still views Bulls management with a jaundiced eye. And some have told me that team president John Paxson remains lukewarm at best regarding Thibs.
The two most obvious faces in the Rose Camp are his brother/manager, Reggie, and his agent, B.J. Armstrong. Reggie obviously did little to help his brother’s cause on Feb. 21, 2013, blasting the organization on the night of the trade deadline for its lack of movement. Never mind that Derrick Rose was still nursing a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, despite team doctors clearing him to return. It wasn’t the last time the organization would have problems with Reggie expressing his opinion. Then there’s Armstrong. The former Bulls guard and title winner worked for the organization under former general manager Jerry Krause. But when vice president of basketball operations John Paxson came in, Armstrong was demoted from his assistant GM post into a scouting position. Armstrong was completely out by 2005, reportedly unhappy with Paxson and the Bulls. The fact that Armstrong, who works for the Wasserman Media Group in Los Angeles, became Rose’s agent was an obvious concern for the Bulls.
Sources said Noah has been in Anthony’s ear as often as possible, and he has told other Bulls to push hard for Anthony this summer. But there is one condition: Backup big man Taj Gibson can’t be sacrificed. And there’s the kicker. For the Bulls to keep Noah, Gibson and point guard Derrick Rose, Anthony would have to be willing to sign a contract in the $14 million- to $15 million-a-year range, and general manager Gar Forman and vice president John Paxson would have to get creative with the rest of the roster.
“Phil is a really smart basketball guy and I have no doubt, given time, he’ll do very well,” said John Paxson, who played for Jackson, worked on his Bulls’ staff one season and now is the Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “I’ve always felt he has a sixth sense about people and it’s one of the reasons he’s been able to blend different personalities into a cohesive unit. “He’s the best at seeing nuances of the game and having patience with people, so I expect him to have success. Every organization is different. And he’s walking into a situation that needs leadership and direction. That’s what he does well: He leads.”
No decision has been made on Carlos Boozer’s future. Bulls vice president John Paxson said so in January, and general manager Gar Paxson reiterated that position Wednesday. “People can say or think what they want, but that decision absolutely hasn’t been made,’’ Forman said in a phone interview from a scouting trip. “We make decisions when we have to make decisions.’’