Hard Decisions Made But A Clear Direction Set

The Bulls, executive vice president John Paxson said Thursday night with the trade of Jimmy Butler, selected a direction. It likely will be down for a while. Though with the intention of rising higher. The rest awaits.

“What we’ve done tonight is set a direction,” Paxson with general manager Gar Forman told reporters after the blockbuster trade to get the No. 7 draft pick, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. “We’ve gone to the past where we make the playoffs, but not at the level we wanted to. You know in this league, success is not determined that way. We’ve decided to make the change and rebuild this roster. We’re going to do it with young players we believe can play a system Fred (Hoiberg, coach) is comfortable with. And we’re going to be disciplined and patient as we make decisions along the way. I think one of the big things when you set a course like this is the decision making is clearly defined. We will continue now to make decisions based on the direction we’ve chosen tonight.

“We are going to remain patient and disciplined,” Paxson insisted. “That’s the idea. The development of our young players is important and they’ve taken a huge step in this last month in being here and showing their commitment to getting better; the coaching staff has done a phenomenal job. They are committed to it. It’s been a really good environment around here and we are going to continue down that path. We have to be disciplined and patient. We are not going to right out the gate be throwing huge money at people. If there were a young player who we thought fit our future we would certainly look at that but that has to be the key.”

And so a new era begins for the Bulls, an official rebuilding. No one had a euphemism this time. No one mentioned the Chicago Cubs, but that’s the idea. The Cubs took several years of fan and media abuse and now can’t get them out of the parade route. The Bulls were hardly promising anything of the sort. And it’s much more difficult in basketball, where fewer teams ever have chances at the championship.

But what looked like a great run with Derrick Rose’s drafting in 2008 and effectively came to an end with his ACL tear in 2012--and then several meniscus tears—finally was stopped. It didn’t seem to have the legs anymore, nor the spirit or possibilities. It was nine years, and most of those considered among the top contenders in the Eastern Conference. Perhaps if they won once, or even got to a Finals. But when you come up short for that long, you eventually have to get the message. The Bulls did.

And the only true value they had remaining was with Butler. It had to be his sacrifice to begin a new path.

So there were plenty of questions remaining and Paxson and Forman addressed them:

On Butler.

Paxson: “It’s always difficult trade a player and person that has meant a lot to the organization and that we really watched grow as a player. Jimmy has improved as an individual as much as any guy, maybe, that we’ve been around. He took it upon himself to make himself a great player, which he’s done. Minnesota is obviously getting a heck of a player. Gar and I have spoken publicly about Jimmy many, many times; class person, great for our organization, he’ll be missed.”

Why do this now after saying after the season a rebuild was too difficult?

Paxson: “It wasn’t so much about watching anything in the playoffs as really this was the first opportunity we felt the deal presented itself that made sense. I said at the trade deadline this past year that we needed a certainty in terms of jump starting this thing. When you talk about certainty, you talk about young players, draft picks that give you a leg up on it. That presented itself late today. So the fact that we have three players now that are young. Zach just turned 22. Kris just turned 23 and Lauri just turned 20. Zach is rehabbing a knee injury, but we did our background on him. He’s coming along great. We anticipate he’s going to do just fine. Kris, even though he struggled last year, we were very high on him last year. He’s the fifth pick in the draft. So when you look at it, we got three lottery picks out of it and young guys we’re jump starting this thing with. It goes to the fact we’ve made some picks the last few years in our position and we’re going to add these guys to the mix. It is rebuilding. But for us, you understand it’s going to be difficult. There’s going to be a lot of bumps along the road. We’ve had eight young guys in our building the last three weeks who are starting to put in the time and the energy and they’re starting to pay attention to Fred (Hoiberg) and his coaching staff. Fred and his staff are doing a terrific job of really working with them and spending time with them. This is something we felt we had to do at this time.”

How quickly can LaVine return?

Paxson: “Anytime you have something like this you're going to follow doctors' advice, and the rehab thing. I think we would, in this type of thing, we'd err on the side of being cautious with him. We want him to come back healthy and ready to play. So the standard by which we determine the workload he gets by playing again, we'll be cautious.”

Will Rajon Rondo return?

Forman: “I think we've got to get together and start planning for July 1 and then we'll answer that. We do have some roster spots still to look at and make a decision on. So we'll take a look at that and make a decision by the time we have to on June 30. I don't think we've made a decision at this point.”

How was Butler told?

Forman: “We contacted his agent right away before the draft had even started. I think Fred had texted him; we tried to call and couldn’t get him over there (vacationing now in Paris).”

Why did you sell your second round pick to the Warriors?

Paxson: “We had some wings on our board that we had targeted that were the only way we were going to keep that pick (believed to be SMU’s Semi Ojeleye, taken one pick earlier). And they went before us. And drafting Lauri and the fact that we have Niko (Mirotic) is a restricted free agent we intend to bring back, Bobby Portis; we didn’t want to add another big. And really, that’s all that was left on our board. And it keeps us now we’re at 12 roster spots; it gives us real flexibility with our roster. We didn’t want to just use up a roster spot on a player that we probably wouldn’t have kept.”

Fear of LaVine’s ACL injury?

Paxson: “There’s always risk in anything. But here’s a guy that’s 22 years old and averages 20 a game. He can score the basketball, he can run. He can shoot the basketball. He shot over 40 percent from three. That’s an area we’re deficient in. Markkanen shot over 40 from three in college. Again, it’s an area where we’re deficient. It’s trying to find the type of player that fits the way that we want to play going forward.”

What was the plan without this trade?

Forman: “We had talked about when we met at the end of the season that if the right deal didn’t present itself that our team would come back probably very similar to last year’s team. We hadn’t determined we were going this direction. We were going to wait until we got a deal that jump started a rebuilding situation and getting the right assets. We felt the three players we got tonight was the best deal we had been presented and fit the direction we wanted to go.”

What of Dwyane Wade now?

Paxson: “Gar and I have talked a lot about this as we’ve kind of studied teams that have rebuilt. You do need some veteran presence in the locker room and Dwyane is a pro; he’s seen a lot. We have yet to talk to him, but we will and we will explain everything to him and talk to him about it. He had the right to opt into the contract, which he did. We’ll talk to him and figure that out as well. But I do believe young guys still need examples of professionalism and Dwyane showed nothing but that around our young guys last year so I feel pretty good about that.I think if Dwyane had been really concerned about it (rebuilding) he might not have picked up his option before the draft. We talked about a lot of things and we talked about our young players with him. The bottom line tonight is we’ve chosen a direction we are confident in and comfortable with and we really believe it is the right thing for the organization to do at this time.”

How was negotiating with former coach Thibodeau?

Paxson: “It was great; there was no issues with us. This business is difficult and sometimes you have to make hard decisions. Things happen. Everything was fine. I give Tom a lot of credit; he was professional and I think handled it all really well. It’s great for them. They are in a position where they had drafts over the last number of years that have gotten them young talent, which is what we hope to do in the future and they had an opportunity to add a great player that’s going to help their basketball team. For us it sets our course and that’s what we need to do.”