By Cody Westerlund–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Just minutes into introducing basketball lifer Doug Collins as the Bulls’ new advisor of basketball operations Tuesday, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson made a series of points clear.
Collins won’t be a decision-maker for the Bulls when it comes to personnel matters. He won’t be a coach for the Bulls, now in a behind-the-scenes contributing role or later should there be turnover at the spot. And he won’t be a spokesman for the team who explains their grand vision amid a rebuild.
So what’s he going to do, exactly? No one could quite say.
“We expect him to look at things and make suggestions,” Paxson said.
Paxson and Collins were big on platitudes Tuesday at the Advocate Center. From Paxson, there was talk of the 66-year-old Collins’ “heart and soul” and how he’ll be a “great resource.” Collins brought up how basketball has “broken my heart,” but “I’ve never loved it more.” Collins also used the word “wisdom” and spoke of paying it back.
“The interesting thing about trust is you gain it in drops and you lose it in buckets,” Collins said philosophically.
The only practical example of what Collins might actually do for the Bulls came from Collins himself, a bit in jest, after he’d emphasized he won’t be missing games at Northwestern, where his son Chris coaches.
“It might be, ‘Would you go speak tomorrow night to speak to our season-ticket holders and talk to them about the season?’” Collins said. “Of course I will. It’s open-ended. We’ll figure it out.”
It’d be useful if Collins’ personality and oft-cited attributes — “intensity and passion that was unique,” as Paxson put it — were qualities the Bulls didn’t already have. Thing is, the fiery Paxson already brings Bulls management such characteristics. The two came to know each other when Collins coached Paxson and the Bulls for three seasons, from 1986-’89, before being fired. On Tuesday, Collins went out of his way to cite the importance of the role players on the Bulls’ championship teams. Paxson was one of the franchise’s best role players of all time.
Those comments and history make you wonder how Collins will contribute anything new of substance to the marketplace of ideas. More likely, it seems his view will be redundant with that of Paxson’s. Then again, maybe that’s the point if the Bulls are looking to eventually part ways with oft-criticized general manager Gar Forman, whose influence can only be diminished, not enhanced, with the addition of Collins.
In a nearly 22-minute media session, Collins maintained he’s not old-school — “I am woke,” he said in the most memorable quote of the day — but there’s little evidence to support that. After all, it was in his second year coaching in Philadelphia that he shared his belief that today’s players were “fragile” and “sensitive.”
When questioned about Tuesday, Collins denied ever having frustration with younger 76ers players, as if “Doug Collins fragile 76ers” couldn’t be Googled. It’s worth noting these Bulls will likely have 13 players 25 or younger reporting to training camp come Monday.
Nothing that was shared Tuesday explained how Collins will be beneficial in front office matters. While he’s been in the NBA for more than 40 years as a player, coach and broadcaster, Collins doesn’t have meaningful front office experience. To hear him tell it, that’s where he’ll primarily be looking to “provoke thought,” as he won’t proactively shower Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg with advice but instead be a sounding board when needed and approached by Hoiberg.
Which begs this question: Why would Hoiberg, having already come under scrutiny in his first two years in Chicago, want Collins around on a semi-regular basis? Collins insisted time and again Tuesday that he’s done coaching — he left the 76ers in April 2013 — but his presence makes it ever easier for the Bulls to hit the eject button on Hoiberg and have an interim coach lined up to replace him. They’ve done it with in-house members before.
At the least, in a season in which Hoiberg will be looking to establish his authority following two years of locker room drama, there’s another competing voice.
“One of the things we talked about when Jerry and Michael (Reinsdorf) and I were together at dinner one night was the first thing that must be known is that under no circumstances am I going to coach here,” Collins said of an early September meeting with Bulls ownership. “And so that should not even be a question. And I know there’s still going to be people who go, ‘Yeah, sure Coach. How many times did this guy retire and come back?’ And all that kind of stuff. So I get that. But I’m not going to coach. I’m not going to give up my life.”
As well as anyone, the defending champion Warriors have utilized the advisory role from an NBA legend. In 2011, they hired Jerry West, who later was the guiding, influential voice in the organization keeping sharpshooter Klay Thompson amid trade talks with the Timberwolves surrounding forward Kevin Love. A burgeoning dynasty has followed.
It’s plausible that Collins will have a franchise-altering opinion on a hefty matter at some point, but it’s not likely. It’s hard to envision the Bulls facing such overly difficult decisions at this point of the rebuild, when the biggest focus is player development and who to draft in the top five next June. Pretty much everyone agrees the Bulls should flip Robin Lopez for a late first-round pick or young player with potential if that deal presents itself and that it’s in everyone’s best interest to buy Dwyane Wade out once his price point comes down. It doesn’t take a Collins type to figure that out.
For a brief moment Tuesday, Collins spoke from his familiar perch as a longtime broadcaster. Asked about the outside perception of the Bulls, Collins acknowledged they’ve been a “pinata” for several years running. He pointed out that he wants to help change the Bulls’ narrative like that of the Reinsdorf-owned White Sox, for whom much enthusiasm abounds after they started rebuilding last December.
Maybe Collins can do just that, despite not being allowed to make decisions, coach or speak for the franchise. It just seems more likely that he’ll contribute to the chaos as various factions of the organization look to prove their worth with the Bulls on a rebuilding path.
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.