John Paxson: from Genius to Dunce in One Season
How did it all go wrong so fast?
Just last summer, the Chicago Bulls had just finished sweeping the defending world champion Miami Heat and giving the Eastern Conference powerhouse Detroit Pistons a fairly competitive playoff round.
At about that time, general manager John Paxson looked like a genius. He had turned the team from a laughing stock in the conference to one of the top teams in the league in such a short amount of time by drafting the likes of Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon, pulling off deals like getting rid of stiff Eddy Curry, and acquiring Luol Deng and trading for Ben Wallace.
Now, as the Bulls stumble to a 26-39 record and find themselves barely in the playoff hunt, Chicago natives are hunting for Paxson’s head and basketball writers are comparing the former Bulls point guard to the infamously bad Isiah Thomas in New York.
So how did Paxson go from genius to dunce in less than one basketball season?
It had nothing to do with any deals he made, but with the deal he almost did.
This offseason, Paxson only made one mistake: He tried to go after Kobe Bryant.
Why not go after the best player in the NBA, you say?
Because acquiring Bryant wouldn’t have solved the Bulls’ problems and made them a championship team.
There was never a problem on the perimeter in Chicago. In fact, over the last three years, the Bulls probably had too many perimeter players and not enough post play. Reportedly, the Bulls were going to give up Hinrich, Gordon, Wallace and Tyrus Thomas but pulled out because the Los Angeles Lakers also wanted Deng.
But the damage had already been done.
The Bulls were always a tight-knit group that thrived on great ball movement and recognition of where everybody was on the court – you can’t be successful in the NBA with a perimeter-oriented team if you don’t have cohesion. But that potential Bryant deal completely let the air out of the Bulls’ balloon.
Chicago got off to a 2-10 start, everybody was walking on eggshells, rookie Joakim Noah was stepping out of line in the locker room, and the Bulls never recovered.
After the bad start, Paxson made a much more tangible mistake by firing head coach Scott Skiles 25 games into the season – forcing a team that suddenly lost its identity and wasn’t getting along to adjust to a new head coach.
Skiles won’t have a hard time finding another job in the NBA. He’s one of the best young coaches in the league, and I feel like he was greatly underappreciated in Chicago.
After Skiles’ firing, things didn’t really get better.
The Bulls continued to struggle, the Wallace experiment had obviously turned sour, and Chicago is now beginning a semi-rebuilding stage.
Gordon, Deng and Andres Nocioni could all be gone by the start of next season, and the Bulls will start all over again.
All of this because Paxson fell into the trap so many GMs in the league become victim to: He saw a big name in neon lights that can sell tickets and completely forgot how it could tarnish the all-important concepts of team chemistry and confidence.