By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Click play, valued reader.
I still don’t know what I was waiting for…
It’s as though the Chicago Bulls front office members think we don’t remember anything. Like they don’t repeat themselves so much that they have their own script of organizational Mad Libs.
“That’s another reason changes were necessary,” vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said at media day back in September. “And it’s created an environment in this building. We have to start from a base level, and a base level is culture and how guys go about their jobs every day. That’s why we’re talking about accountability.”
(Turn and face the strange)
Flash forward through the 2016-’17 Bulls season, finally accepting the sweet release of death, that would otherwise be considered painfully mediocre save for it being chalk full of the absurd. Culture was a theme of Wednesday’s press conference with Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, one of the three or so times a year they show their faces in order to gaslight us groundlings. Paxson asserted Wednesday that he “defines the culture,” while Forman deals with day-to-day operations/finding new ways to make this team laughable.
And what of that Bulls culture you’re defining, Pax? Would it be the one that soured a local star in Derrick Rose on his hometown NBA experience, partly because of a “culture” of players like Rose and Luol Deng seemingly done dirt by team medical staff?
I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
In the last two postseason appearances the Bulls have made, players have punked out in a Game 6. In 2015, they took the court in body but not in mind against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, scoring 16 or fewer points in the second, third and fourth quarters. This year, the Boston Celtics knew the Bulls were basically running drills just a few minutes into Chicago’s elimination loss in the first round last Friday. Culture should be made of sterner stuff.
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through
“As we get younger,” Paxson said, “it’s still really important to have quality veterans around your young players.”
In turn, the Bulls managed to eff up both of those approaches. This past season’s version of “getting younger” was first-round pick Denzel Valentine not sniffing the court during the Celtics series. It was trading away a 25-year-old first-round bust in Doug McDermott whom GarPax traded up to draft and getting in return Cameron Payne, who has needed D-League seasoning since in order to wear a suit while mostly inactive in the playoffs. It was the inconsistency of Cristiano Felicio and Bobby Portis and the bearded bill of goods that is Nikola Mirotić.
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Will anything be different going forward? Or might next season’s roster look like this past one’s?
“It could be, yeah,” Paxson said.
“We’re going to put a lot of resources and time into our player development this offseason and try to create a culture where they can grow and try to become the best players that they can,” Paxson said. “We said last year when we made a lot of these changes that this is a process. We approach is that what every day, and we’re going to remain patient and disciplined as we make decisions along the way.”
So you bring back a roster that was split into factions of Team Rondo and Team Wade/Butler (which may just have been Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler).
“To a man, our young people loved Rajon,” Paxson said. “He was great in the locker room. He was great off the court with these guys. He took them under his wing in a lot of ways, and he was responsible for a lot of the good things that came from them. We have a lot of respect for Rajon, especially how he believes in the game.
“When we had that incident where Dwyane and Jimmy spoke up in January, when he stood up for our young guys, that empowered them a little bit. It might be small but there was some growth with our young guys. Because they felt they had a voice as a young player, and for us that was important.”
That “incident” sure grilled your ass at the time, but, hey, let’s pretend you’re cool with it in retrospect. What Paxson didn’t mention was how the organization was all but done with Rondo during the winter, that injuries necessitated his un-benching and that even while Rondo was out for Games 5 and 6 against Boston, he was the de facto coach out there.
Not mentioned literally either was that Rondo and the other veterans don’t care a lick for their towheaded little head coach in Fred Hoiberg whose merits helming a bench are hard to fully judge when his bosses set him up to fail from the jump. The gelding was implied Wednesday, though.
“Fred’s challenge this offseason is to find ways to be a better leader,” Paxson said. “I think he showed progress in that area. The team did rally around him at times. But again, that’s part of the process.”
So you just publicized what in most job environments should be an in-house-only year-end job evaluation of a coach who doesn’t have players’ respect anyway because you emasculated him with the additions of Rondo and Wade after Butler had publicly dissed Hoiberg the year before.
“The Jimmy component, we’ve talked about,” Paxson said. “But ideally, in the system Fred wants to run we need to play with pace and push.
“He has the ball in his hands a lot. Honestly, there was a stretch of games late in the year, he had some big assist games. We understand that. We know his value.”
Oh, our superstar maybe doesn’t fit with the coach we’re bringing back while publicly flogging. That’s good culture right there. Give me another heaping ladle-full please, Cody Westerlund of 670TheScore.com:
The most jarring criticism of Hoiberg by management Wednesday came in what was left unsaid. Asked directly why Hoiberg is the right long-term fit for this team, Paxson didn’t cite a specific attribute or strength. He mentioned “growth” — but only in the context of veteran guard Dwyane Wade mentioning that he had seen it in Hoiberg.
“I mentioned to you last year that I view young coaches in this league as like young players,” Paxson said. “They have to develop and grow, too. I’m not going to get into the specifics about things we’ve seen. We have a lot of discussions throughout the year about issues we have, things with him, but that’s for us internally to have and to talk about. I do believe that.”
Any other snips of the gonads you fellas would like to make of the coach you totally have faith in?
“There wasn’t a lot of consistency with the rotations and guys were in and out, sometimes playing, sometimes not,” Forman — who handpicked Hoiberg, mind you — said. “Like (John) said, organizationally we’ve got to commit.”
Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace I’m going through
“From ownership down, we’re committed to working through the issues that we face,” Paxson said. “Jerry and Michael (Reinsdorf) continue to give us resources. Gar and I are committed to reshaping the roster, continuing to do that in that in a disciplined fashion.”
But you said that the roster could be the s- … whatever. By the way, do any of us know that Michael Reinsdorf isn’t actually an urban legend?
“We’re going to put a lot of resources and time into our player development this offseason,” Paxson continued to platitude, “and try to create a culture where they can grow and try to become the best players that they can. We said last year when we made a lot of these changes that this is a process. We approach is that what every day, and we’re going to remain patient and disciplined as we make decisions along the way.”
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
In the end, all the usual suspects for the Bulls are coming back. We will get another one of these dryhumps in September. Probably another hot air State of the Union during the next team soap opera. Then more suits sponge-bathing one another after not contending for the Eastern Conference title again, probably firing Hoiberg and selecting another “promising” coach they expect to kneel before their plan to fill the United Center with the allure of something resembling winning basketball.
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time
The Chicago Bulls organization will continue to retrace this organizational philosophy/long con, though. Over and again. Doing it for the culture.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.