Reinsdorf’s confidence high in Paxson and Forman
The takeaway story from the 2012-13 Chicago Bulls season clearly is in how much the team achieved in spite of the numerous injuries it faced, playing without Derrick Rose but losing several other key players for substantial amounts of time but still recording 45 regular season victories and advancing to the second round of the postseason.
Team President & COO Michael Reinsdorf believes it’s not only a credit to Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah and the rest of the roster with a “next man up” mentality, but the team’s coach, Tom Thibodeau, who kept the group focused and refused to let them quit no matter how great of odds they faced.
(Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls)
But equally impressive, as Reinsdorf pointed out on Friday afternoon, is the job done by John Paxson and Gar Forman, the tandem who oversees Basketball Operations and puts each season’s group together.
They are one of several reasons that Reinsdorf is so upbeat about the organization’s future.
“The good news is we have people like John Paxson and Gar Forman at the top of our basketball operations department to make sure we are competitive every year and we put a team out there that has the capability of winning a championship,” said Reinsdorf from the NBA Draft Combine. “I trust those guys.”
Reinsdorf contends that their recent track record says it all. Indeed, the late round selections of Taj Gibson at 26th overall in 2009 and Jimmy Butler with the 30th pick in 2011 brought considerable talent to Chicago which will be relied upon greatly as the team moves forward.
“This is a guy who was the 30th pick in the draft that any other team could have had,” Reinsdorf said of Butler. “He played nearly every minute against Miami and LeBron James. If you saw how LeBron James embraced Jimmy Butler after that game, to me, it was the ultimate show of respect and that Jimmy has arrived as a ballplayer.”
Chicago also had the choice of Joakim Noah or Spencer Hawes with the 9th pick in 2007 and went with Noah, who was named an NBA All-Star for the first time this season and also earned NBA All-Defensive first team honors.
“It’s clear that Jo is a leader,” said Reinsdorf of Noah. “He’s one of the leaders on our team and the glue that gets everyone to stick together. He willed us to a victory in Game 7 [over the Brooklyn Nets]. For him, it was hard just to walk; let alone play a game. And we said, ‘Now we want you to go out there and guard Brook Lopez and run up and down the court.’ With the type of pain he was in, it was absolutely amazing. I would say he played the best game of his career. He’s a warrior.”
Also on Paxson and Forman’s collective resume is the acquisition of the draft rights to No. 23 pick Nikola Mirotic in 2011. While Mirotic won’t likely join the Bulls until at least next offseason, he’s enjoyed a great deal of success with Real Madrid and could play a considerable role in the team’s pursuit of a seventh championship. Reinsdorf believes that if Mirotic had waited to enter the draft until this summer, he’d be a lottery pick, perhaps even among the top five.
Now, as the offseason gets underway and uncertainty surrounds who will return from the Bulls bench, Reinsdorf is confident Paxson and Forman will find the right mix once again.
“A few years ago when we went through the free agency period and ended up signing Carlos Boozer, we brought in Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and some other guys who created that Bench Mob,” said Reinsdorf. “It was a great team, but with the realities of the collective bargaining agreement, sometimes you have to let go of certain players and bring in new players and ensure you have the right mix. John and Gar have done it.”
Should they need to do it again, it’s likely they’ll factor in character with regard to player acquisitions or free agent signings as they have in the past.
“We have a great group of people in our organization from a player standpoint,” said Reinsdorf. “They’re top notch. You look at our roster with guys like Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah, everyone, they’re just fantastic guys, guys you’d want to be friends with off the court.”
On the topic of Deng, who was sidelined with severe illness for the last two games of the Brooklyn series and all of the Miami series, Reinsdorf said the decision was easy in making his wellbeing a top priority.
“Luol had a lot of symptoms for what they thought could be meningitis,” said Reinsdorf. “It was something that the doctors felt they needed to test for. Let’s put things in perspective, because a player’s health is more important than a game.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out and he missed the Miami series and clearly the team missed him,” Reinsdorf added. “He’s an All-Star. Not having Luol was a major impact for us in that Miami series. But again, we have to look out for the players’ health.”
He echoed that sentiment in support of Rose, whose return was always up in the air as to whether it would happen this past season or the next.
“I don’t think any of us knew whether Derrick was going to come back, whether it was March, April… I don’t think anyone knew; I don’t think Derrick knew,” said Reinsdorf. “Ultimately, it is the player who has to decide if he’s going to come back on the court.
“We didn’t want Derrick to come back before he was ready,” he continued. “I’ve looked at a lot of injuries over the years and guys coming back early – Gilbert Arenas, he’s a player who came back from a knee injury; he came back too early and suffered a lot of consequences from that. For us, it’s long-term thinking. I have no regrets over how that whole situation was handled.
“We’ve never wavered in our support of Derrick,” Reinsdorf concluded. “He knows his body better than anyone else. When Derrick’s ready, he’ll be ready.”