If you had asked me who John Paxson was 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you he was a winner, a champion, my favorite Chicago Bull, and a damn good basketball player. If you had asked me who John Paxson was 2 months ago, I wouldn’t have hesitated to tell you he was a loser, and a frustrated, out of touch VP who was steering a once storied franchise to ruin with his ineptitude. Last night, the reports started to trickle in that the Chicago Bulls had hired Arturas Karnisovas away from the Denver Nuggets, and are now ready to install him as the new Vice President of Basketball Operations. After nearly two decades of being the final word on all things Bulls Basketball, John Paxson has finally been replaced and I’m struggling with my emotions.
There is a large part of me that is rejoicing. It’s the part that has watched this franchise slowly devolve from being an important fixture in the very fabric of the NBA to the laughing stock/after thought of a team that I cheer for today. There are a lot of Bulls fans that never experienced the Dynasty Era, that never saw John Paxson the player, and so won’t have an appreciation for what I have to say next. There is also a small part of me that is heartbroken Paxson has been replaced. It is well and truly the end of an era.
In many ways, Paxson was the last holdout of the Dynasty Era. Sure, there are players like Tony Kukoc and Horace Grant that the Bulls still employ as “ambassadors” of the franchise. And yes, Stacey King, Bill Wennington, and Will Purdue are still part of the local radio and TV broadcasts of games, but Paxson was the last Dynasty Era player actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the Chicago Bulls. By replacing him, it almost feels as though the last ember of that incredible time has finally sputtered out for good.
There will be many retrospectives written about Paxson and his tenure as the Bull’s lead decision maker. Some will be complimentary, others bitter and biting. If you ask me who John Paxson is today, I would hesitate in my response. I have been much less than complimentary in my posts about him over the last 3 years of writing this blog, and it would be disingenuous of me to say that I didn’t advocate for, and welcome, this change. The Reinsdorfs are finally making the right decision in replacing Paxson. He had lost control of the organization and was doing more harm than good as the lead executive.
Time marches on and so does the NBA. In many ways, the Bulls and Paxson have both been stuck in the past. Whether it’s the teams approach to basketball, or the structure and operation of the entire franchise, the Chicago Bulls have been left choking on the dust of a good number of other teams across the league. Very few franchises operate like the Bulls, with what amounts to a skeleton crew overseeing a multi-billion dollar organization. Front Office change was long past due, and I’m hopeful that a full rebuild of the entire organization can now take place unfettered by the embers of the past.
As we fans welcome the new head of operations, Arturas Karnisovas, and wait to see what his vision of this Bulls franchise looks like, there is a feeling of excitement and uncertainty that is new and invigorating. For the first time in a long while, we don’t know what the future holds for the Chicago Bulls. Roster decisions, coaching decisions, free agent signings, it’s all up for grabs now. Will Karnisovas want to restart the rebuild with a whole new group of young players? Will he give Coach Jim Boylen an opportunity to prove himself or go with a coach of his own choosing? Can Karnisovas lure big name free agents to Chicago, or has this team’s reputation been well and truly tarnished forever?
Before any of that is answered, it’s time to say “Goodbye” to John Paxson, at least as the Bulls VP of Basketball Operations. I’m sure he’ll be around the team in some way, shape, or form, I doubt the Reinsdorfs will completely fire him. Paxson deserves every bit of the reputation he earned as an executive in the NBA, both the good and the bad. If you ask me what I think of the man today, after thinking it through, I would have to say he is one of the most important figures in all of Bulls history, and whatever we fans may think of him, he always had the team’s best interest at heart and tried to make it live up to it’s reputation as one of the more storied franchises in the NBA. Let’s hope that Arturas Karnisovas does the same.
Until then, thanks for reading and GO BULLS!