By Cody Westerlund–
(CBS) As the Bulls’ season has begun trending downward amid a 3-8 stretch, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson joined David Schuster on 670 The Score on Christmas morning ahead of the team’s afternoon road game against the Spurs.
Paxson spoke highly of Dwyane Wade’s impact on Jimmy Butler and the organization, discussed the current troubles plaguing the Bulls, what the plan is moving forward and offered an honest critique of Niko Mirotic.
Here’s a sampling of what Paxson had to say on the various topics.
On what he sees as the Bulls’ biggest issues right now:
“We’ve wanted to play with a little more pace, a little quicker. In this day and age, if you’re not advancing the ball quickly and you’re allowing defenses to set up and you’re fighting clock, that becomes an issue. One of the things I see Fred’s talked about is the fact that we get to fourth quarters, and we really stop pushing pace and the ball stops moving. That’s been one thing that’s really, really hurt us.
“The other thing is we’ve really gotten inconsistent play from the guys coming off our bench. Losing Doug (McDermott) for that period of time with a concussion really did hurt us, messed with our rotation a little bit, some of the things we can do. But we’ve just been inconsistent in that area. The one encouraging thing for us, I think, is we’re probably going to get Michael Carter-Williams back this week. You kind of forget he’s even on the roster because we traded for him so late in camp and three games in, he took a fall and hurt himself … He was doing very well for us.”
On the Bulls ranking last in the NBA in 3-point shooting:
“It’s hurt us, there’s no question about it. We’re last in the league in 3-point shooting. We acknowledged that going in, that that would be an issue with us. We did think and still think that Niko, Doug, they have the capability of being 40-percent 3-point shooters. That’s where they need to be. Right now, Niko’s at 30 and Doug’s at 33. Some of that is shot selection, some of that is finding your rhythm and your groove. But it’s obviously frustrating. At the beginning of the year, we knew that was going to be a weakness of ours. It’s something we have to address. We did think we were going to shoot the ball a little bit better than we’re shooting it right now.”
On what is the plan for the Bulls moving forward:
“We started it this past offseason, in terms of trying to get younger. You can kind of go back to we road Derrick (Rose’s) injury out for a long time. We had our team built at that point. Derrick’s injury was obviously a huge blow to us. He never really got back to where he was for us.
“We tried to plug holes. In the meantime, you’re drafting in the middle of the pack all the time. You’re good enough to make the playoffs a little bit, but you’re picking between 14, 15 and 22. It’s difficult to get impact players, unless you’re lucky like we were with Jimmy (Butler) years ago. We’re started that portion of it.
“The area we really do need to improve is with our athleticism. That’s been evident this year as well. We’ve got some vets that know how to play, can score, but you know when you look around the league and how the game is now, that’s an area we have to address. That is a part of our plan, and we’ll try to do that obviously through the draft and try to do it through free agency if we can. You always have the trade option, but right now, our roster is what it is.”
On the impact of Dwyane Wade:
“The thing I’ve been most impressed with is he’s just professional in his approach and his attitude. He knows how to prepare himself. At this stage of his career, he knows what he can and can’t do. We’re trying to watch him carefully to make sure he doesn’t break down, but he takes very good care of himself. He’s right around that 30-minute mark a game for us, which is what we had intended for him. He’s been really good for us, and he’s been good for, taking some of the pressure off Jimmy just in terms of having to speak all the time and be the voice. I think that’s helped. They’ve formed a very nice bond together. You see them before games, they have a routine of shooting together and things like that.
On whether Dwyane Wade could attract other big-name free agents in summer 2017:
“You can’t count on that. I guess in your dreams you hope something like that might happen, but if you’re counting on that, to me, that’s not a plan. You’re just kind of hoping and wishing. That wasn’t a consideration. We looked at it as Dwyane was available in the short term, we hadn’t done anything to get up high in last year’s draft or anything to try to get really young and rebuild and we made that choice … that’s what we were looking at this past summer. So he’s been great. I think he’s been a real positive for this organization.”
On Niko Mirotic and his lack of consistency:
“Asking how to get it out of him, a lot of this is in the individual. I think sometimes players get, Niko has a tendency to get down on himself, to be honest with you. I think sometimes as a player you just have to kind of say to yourself, ‘Enough is enough, I’m going to go out and I’m going to compete. I’m going to work on my game.’ A lot of this is the individual. Niko is a great guy. He has an ability to get better. He’s shooting 30 from the 3. His mechanics as a jump shooter are too good to be shooting that percentage. I’m sure he knows that in his mind. But a lot of this game is confidence and opportunity. Fred sat him for a couple games, and he came back and had a big game for us against Detroit. He needs to keep building on that.
“Again, so much of this for us is getting consistent play from the guys we need. We basically play a nine-man rotation most nights, nine or 10. You need to know pretty consistently what you’re going to get from certain guys. And the bench is so important.
“Niko will be a part of that because he can space the floor. He should be shooting at a higher clip, but he does keep defenses honest. I think a lot of it is confidence and trust in yourself. You just have to keep grinding it out. That’s what this game is about, you play 82 games.”
On coach Fred Hoiberg’s growth in his second year:
“He’s grown. I’ve seen it more on the practice floor than anywhere, just a little bit of a comfort level there. His staff with Jim Boylen and the guys he has around him, they’ve been really good. But it’s a difficult job. They’ve got a lot to manage, a lot of things on their plate. I think any of these positions, whether you play or you coach, you’re always trying to get better and you’re always trying to grow. Obviously Fred, he’s going to continue to do that. We sit and we try to discuss issues with our team and everyone is a part of that process. We’re all trying to get better.”
On the message for fans:
“We do appreciate our fan support immensely … They’re supportive. Everybody wants a better team on the floor. There aren’t any excuses from us. We can point back to we thought we had it going, but Derrick blows out his knee and all of a sudden that changed our fortunes. Had he not gotten hurt, who knows what would’ve happened. But that’s not our reality. So we have to continue to try to find a way to put better players, a better team out there on the floor. That’s what we’re trying to do. At some point this year, we may have to give our young guys opportunities that they’re going to need to see if they can develop into players. But we do appreciate our fan base. They’ve been terrific. We’re really lucky to be in a city that supports its teams as well as they do. Believe me, we do not take that for granted.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for CBSChicago.com and covers the Bulls. He’s also the co-host of the @LockedOnBulls podcast, which you can subscribe to on iTunes and Stitcher. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.