Gar Forman: Bulls Sculptor, a critique

In late August, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote an itchy little article that has nettled the back of my brain since I read it. The article was about Cameron Payne’s unfortunate foot injury. In the article, Cowley sites an unnamed source “close to the situation” as having said this about the trade for Cameron Payne:

We knew the second practice [after he was acquired] that he couldn’t play at [an NBA] level. The only reason it took two practices was because we thought maybe it was nerves in the first one. Any [Bulls] coach who says differently is lying. . . . We got ‘Garred’ on that one.’’ From a Joe Cowley article, Chicago Sun-Times, 08/31/2017

After taking over as General Manager of the Chicago Bulls in 2009, Gar Forman has certainly been the “fall man” in the Bulls organization. He has earned the ire of many fans after the removal of favorite coaches, players, and mascots. Forman is also hated, despised, and much maligned for the players he has acquired, for the team he has created. Succinctly, He has been blamed for the recent demise of a once flourishing franchise.

I like to think of general managers as artists. Some, like Gregg Popovich, are architects – building a team from the ground up, piece by piece, molding each player into another block of the organization. Some GM’s, like Phil Jackson, are composers – taking a theme, creating variations on that theme, sticking to the theme even if it means forcing Melo and Porzingis to play the Triangle. Gar Forman is a sculptor. But not just any kind of sculptor, Gar Forman is a found object sculptor.

Found Object Art is when an artist takes everyday normal objects, not usually considered art material, and turns them into Art. A simple google image search of “Found Object Art” will result in countless examples of this. Gar Forman takes great pride in “finding” basketball players. He enjoys taking different types of players, coaches, personalities, work ethics, etc., and cobbling them together into a sculpture known as the Chicago Bulls.

To understand the Art of Gar Forman let us look at some of the “materials” he has chosen to use in his time as General Manager/Sculptor of the Bulls. In the 2009 NBA Draft, Gar’s first draft as GM, the Bulls selected James Johnson (16th overall) and Taj Gibson (26th overall). Johnson has spent his career bouncing around the NBA, and Gibson was a fixture on the Bulls for 7+ seasons. Gibson was traded this February to the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with Doug McDermott, for Cameron Payne and Joffrey Lauvergne. Speaking of McDermott, he was acquired in a 2014 draft night trade for Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris, two players who have gotten better with each season that passes. Essentially, Forman turned Gibson, Nurkic, and Harris, three established NBA veterans, into Cameron Payne an injury prone under achiever.

This is indicative of Gar Forman’s art. He routinely “finds” a player and then replaces that player with a different “find”. For Forman, the thrill of the sculpting process is all in the finding. With the majority of Forman’s focus on finding pieces, it appears he does not have the vision of a completed “Bulls sculpture.”

Any artist will tell you, that a piece of art can change from one thing to another as the artist allows that piece to take on life and personality. The original vision of the artist might change as well along the way. A piece that may have started somber could quickly become joyful with an exact chisel from a master sculptor. Gar Forman is not a master sculptor. He struggles with two important aspects of Found Object Art and Art in general: He cannot decide on what the finished sculpture will look like, and he cannot identify the key objects to be used in his sculpture.

Here are some of the key players Gar Forman has found and let go while GM

Taj Gibson – drafted 2009, traded to Oklahoma City Thunder in 2017

James Johnson – drafted 2009, traded to Toronto Raptors in 2011

Ben Gordon – let go in 2009 free agency

Tyrus Thomas – traded to Charlotte in 2010

Carlos Boozer – signed 2010, released in 2014

Kyle Korver – signed 2010, traded to Atlanta Hawks in 2012 for cash considerations

Jimmy Butler – drafted 2011, traded to Minnesota Timberwolves in 2017, for Lauri Markkanen, Zach Lavine, and Kris Dunn.

Marco Belinelli – signed a one year deal in 2012, allowed to walk in 2013

Nat Robinson – signed a one year deal in 2012, allowed to walk in 2013

Tony Snell – drafted 2013, traded in 2016 to the Milwaukee Bucks for Michael Carter-Williams.

Mike Dunleavy – signed 2013, traded in 2016 to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Albert Miralles

Loul Deng – traded in 2014 to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Andrew Bynum and draft picks

Pau Gasol – signed in 2014, allowed to walk in 2016 free agency

Doug McDermottAcquired in 2014 trade from the Denver Nuggets, traded to OKC in 2017

Derrick Rose – traded in 2016 to the New York Knicks for Jerian Grant and Robin Lopez

Joakim Noah – allowed to walk in 2016 free agency

Rajon Rondo – signed in 2016, allowed to walk in 2017 free agency

Dwayne Wade – signed in 2016, will probably be bought out of contract this season

This list could have been much more extensive, but it serves the point. The Bulls are not the same piece of art that Gar Forman started sculpting 8 years ago. Key found pieces have been replaced and, worse, discarded. Forman lacks the imagination to see what the Bulls will be with, and without those key pieces. In order to see his own art, he has to build his sculpture through trial and error. “What if I let Deng go and sign Pau? Derrick Rose can no longer serve as the foundation of this team! We will get younger, but first we must sign Dwayne Wade.”

When an artist is obsessed with the individual pieces, he or she will be blind to the sculpture as a whole. The individual pieces are sewn together without regard to form and function. Instead of a Bulls Championship as the finished product, all the individual pieces fit together by Gar Forman resemble a heap of garbage.

Without an end goal, an artist cannot know if a found piece will fit into the Art being created. You can’t even call what Forman has created a “Frankenstein Monster”, because Dr. Frankenstein’s goal was to bring his creature to life, a goal he succeeded at. Gar’s goal has never be clear. Most recently, he has been obsessed with the nebulous mantra “younger and more athletic,” a goal contradicted last off-season by the free agent signings of Rajon Rondo and Dwayne Wade.

Some will argue, after the trade of Jimmy Butler, Gar Forman has finally picked a direction, focused his vision for the Bulls. Perhaps. Perhaps this sculpture is a very difficult one to complete. A piece of art with an ever changing personality and life. Maybe Gar Forman will prove to be the Master Sculptor after all. I doubt it. He is an artist fixated on finding pieces. He lacks the ability to see how these pieces will conform with the rest of the sculpture. He lacks the imagination to see what the finished sculpture will be.

This is what it means to be “Garred;” to have the very point of a piece of art undermined by the artists lack of appreciation for what they have already found.

In my first post, I promised to be positive and uplifting throughout the Bulls rebuild. So, in light of my promise: Do not dismay Bulls fans! There is another artist waiting in the wings if, and when, Gar Forman fails to complete his sculpture: The artist know as Doug Collins.