Front office stability has been a gift and curse for the Chicago Bulls, a marquee franchise that’s finally beginning to act like one.
Team president and COO Michael Reinsdorf, son of managing partner Jerry Reinsdorf, has taken more of a leading role in the last couple of seasons and is spearheading the search to hire a new top basketball executive.
Multiple sources told Yahoo Sports that Denver Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas is the leader in the clubhouse. Karnisovas has a strong draft record and is known to be good in player development, two of the bullet points the Bulls have earmarked for their next top basketball executive.
John Paxson and Gar Forman have yo-yo’d in the top chair for the better part of two decades, but after a moderately successful run ended following the Tom Thibodeau years, the franchise hasn’t reclaimed any identity and has made very little progress.
Some of the early identified candidates — Miami’s Adam Simon and Indiana’s Chad Buchanan — have turned down the Bulls’ attempts to interview them. Michael Reinsdorf isn’t deterred from that, because it’s more likely Simon and Buchanan used the overtures to get raises from their current employers as opposed to not viewing the Bulls as a desirable option.
The Bulls also interviewed Utah Jazz executive Justin Zanik, who has Chicago ties, but the Jazz organization seems intent on keeping him.
Paxson has been involved in the implementation of the search and restructuring of the organization. He’s a favorite of Jerry Reinsdorf, having been a player on championship teams, a broadcaster and, now, as executive vice president.
Sources said Paxson will be as involved or uninvolved as the new head of basketball operations wants him to be, and it hasn’t been a deterrent in the search, given the awkward nature on its face.
For the most part, this appears to be Michael Reinsdorf’s show. Stability has been something he values, and he’s spent the last few months figuring out how he wants his executive staff to perform.
The Bulls are a marquee job in a marquee market, and although many in the league never believed the Reinsdorfs would move on from Paxson and Forman, it was viewed as a positive for whoever is hired given the family’s loyalty to the current regime.
Many view the Bulls as a sleeping giant of sorts and this is Reinsdorf’s chance to make his mark.
Sources said he wants someone who has a presence publicly, especially given the reticent nature of Paxson and Forman the last several years. The Bulls have embraced analytics the last few seasons but having someone who can discern how to apply the numbers against other basketball factors is important to Reinsdorf.
The Bulls have had one of the smaller scouting staffs in the NBA and with whomever they hire, that should be expected to change.
“He wants someone who’ll surround himself with smart people, a great talent evaluator. There’s a need to get better in the player development department, too,” a source told Yahoo Sports.
The Bulls have done well in the draft, usually in the middle of the lottery. Selecting Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. and acquiring Lauri Markkanen via the Jimmy Butler trade in 2017 have been positives.
But Markkanen hasn’t grown despite his ability and has battled injuries since being drafted, similar to Carter Jr.
Only Zach LaVine has performed above expectations even after recovering from a torn ACL when the Bulls traded for him in 2017. LaVine and others have clashed with head coach Jim Boylen, who seems overmatched in his role and hasn’t elevated the Bulls to playoff contention.
Boylen was a selection of Paxson and Forman, coming in when the Bulls hired Fred Hoiberg and replacing him early in the 2018-19 season.
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