John Paxson

Latest On Russell Westbrook, Thunder

The Rockets always loom as a threat when stars become available on the market and the Russell Westbrook sweepstakes are no different.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst (video link) hears that Houston is attempting to slip into negotiations with Oklahoma City, focusing on the possibility of a three-team trade. It’s unclear which players the Rockets would offer up in such a scenario, though I’d speculate sending Chris Paul elsewhere is the angle. Houston could swap Paul and Westbrook easily, as they both make $38.5M, though the rebuilding Thunder don’t appear to be a fit for Paul. Finding that third team would likely be necessary if in that type of deal.

The Heat appear to be the frontrunner to land Westbrook and the eight-time All-Star has reportedly placed Miami atop the shortlist he gave team’s front office, as Windhorst notes. Still, the two sides have barriers to overcome if they are going to come to an agreement on a trade. Miami is hard-capped, meaning the franchise cannot take back any additional salary in any trade. The team also lacks the ability to trade away a first-rounder until the 2025 season, having already dealt away its two future picks (OKC owns Miami’s unprotected 2021 and lottery unprotected 2023 selections).

Here’s more surrounding Westbrook and the Thunder:

  • Will the Bulls get involved in the Westbrook sweepstakes? It doesn’t sound like it. “When you look at the financial aspect of a player that’s 30 going out four years and the amount of money that’s going to be made, those things can tie your hands up and put your organization in a tough position,” VP John Paxson said without mentioning Westbrook directly (via Mark Strotman of NBC Chicago). “You want the superstars. You want to do what the Clippers are doing and the Lakers are doing, but we’re realistic right now. We’re not in that position. We hope that in a couple years with the development of these young guys, players around the league view us as a destination point where they can win at the highest level.”
  • The 22% stake in the Thunder organization owned by the late Audrey McClendon is up for sale, Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg reports. The franchise is worth approximately $1.5 billion, according to the latest Forbes report. Oklahoma City has sold out 355 games in a row, which is the third-longest active streak in the league.
  • Dan Devine of The Ringer breaks down the possible destinations from Westbrook but struggles to find a new home for the point guard. Still, the scribe contends that there will be a team willing to trade for him before training camp starts.

Central Notes: Dunn, Leuer, Doumbouya, Bucks, J.R. Smith

Bulls executive VP John Paxson insists that Kris Dunn still has a role despite the addition of North Carolina point guard Coby White with the team’s lottery selection, K.C. Johnson of Chicago Tribune reports. “We still value Kris very much,” Paxson said. “But competition is a part of this business. You have to have that. The goal for us is to be deeper, more talented. You see in our game today, the successful teams have versatile rosters. … And, hey, if he comes in, as we hope, in training camp in great shape and ready to roll, he has every chance to earn any spot he wants — just like any of our guys do.”

We have more from the Central Division:

  • It’s uncertain whether veteran power forward Jon Leuer will play for the Bucks, Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel tweets. Milwaukee traded Tony Snell and its first-round pick to the Pistons for Leuer in an effort to clear cap space. Leuer is in the final year of his contract. GM Jon Horst told Leuer and his agent that he could be included in a future trade, Velazquez adds. Leuer appeared in 41 games last season after injuries limited him to eight games the previous season.
  • The Pistons were stunned that forward Sekou Doumbouya slipped just outside the lottery, allowing them to pick him with the No. 15 selection, according to Rod Beard of the Detroit News. The Pistons watched him work out in Dallas but were convinced they had no chance to draft him. “He kept dropping and we had Plan A in place and we didn’t expect him to be there. Then Plan B came into place and it was the best plan of all — because we had him ranked very high on the board,” coach Dwane Casey said. “We were there at the workout in Dallas and we thought we were wasting our time because we saw all the teams in front of us.”
  • The Bucks didn’t get any players in the draft but it was for lack of trying, Velazquez reports in another tweet. The Bucks made calls on every second-round pick but didn’t want to give up future picks and discovered that it’s much tougher to simply buy picks now.
  • The Cavaliers were unable to unload J.R. Smith on draft night and it’s likely he’ll be waived before his contract becomes fully guaranteed at the end of the month, Joe Vardon of The Athletic reports. Cleveland doesn’t want to go over the luxury-tax line. Acquiring a player on a multi-year contract whose salary pushed them over the line was a deal breaker. Only $3.87MM of Smith’s $15.68MM salary is guaranteed.

Reinsdorf Defends Staff, Sees ‘Big Jump’ Next Season

Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf defended his top front office executives and head coach in a radio interview on Monday and said he expects the team to make big strides next season. Reinsdorf made those comments on 670 The Score’s Mully and Haugh (hat tip to NBC Sports Chicago’s Dan Santaromita).

Reinsdorf and the Bulls have taken a lot of heat for retaining GM Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson. Reinsdorf said the duo built “championship-caliber teams” before Derrick Rose suffered serious knee injuries. He also feels they have drafted well, naming Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic and Joakim Noah among their best picks.

He’s confident with a young core group and a high lottery pick, the Bulls are on the upswing. Heading into Tuesday’s lottery, Chicago holds the No. 4 spot.

“I feel like we have a great opportunity with this year’s draft to add another player and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think we can jump from where we were this year to a much better record,” Reinsdorf said. “I really think we’re set up. … I don’t claim that next year we’re going to be a championship caliber team, but I think you’re going to see the next step next year and a big jump.”

The Bulls could have up to $19MM in cap space this summer and Reinsdorf says they’ll use it to fortify the bench.

“We’re going to follow this plan through,” Reinsdorf said. “We have some cap space this year to spend on players. I do think we need to add to our depth and we’ll do that.”

Chicago’s decision to hand Jim Boylen a multiyear extension also caused grumbling among Bulls fans, considering the team’s 22-60 record. Reinsdorf was convinced by season’s end that the head coach had earned it.

“I think we knew towards the end of the season that Jim was the right person for us,” Reinsdorf said. “We had enough experience with him and so it was just a matter of getting the contract done.”

Bulls Notes: Dunn, Markkanen, Wings, Forman

On Tuesday, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote about how Bulls point guard Kris Dunn wanted to know what team personnel – i.e. head coach Jim Boylen and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson – were thinking in regard to Dunn’s future with the team.

As Cowley put it, it’s up for debate whether or not Dunn has the skills to be a starter in this league for a team on the back-end of a rebuilding project. That is, a team that expects to start competing for the playoffs sooner rather than later. As such, the question becomes whether the Bulls are truly committed to Dunn.

“I haven’t really talked to them (about that)”, Dunn said. “So once I talk to them, I’ll get a sense of what they’re thinking… It’s a business. They’re going to do what they’re going to do. I’m just going to control what I can control. I’m excited to get back in the gym and do what I do.”

Fortunately or perhaps unfortunately for Dunn, he got a pretty straightforward answer from Paxson earlier today, as K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune tweets. Per Johnson, Paxson told the media that the Bulls have not yet given up on Dunn, but that the team needed to get better at the point guard position and that Dunn will have the opportunity this summer to show that he can improve his game to where Paxson and Boylen feel it needs to be.

There’s more out of Chicago this evening:

  • An official update from the team reports that big man Lauri Markkanen, after completing thorough examinations from cardiologists at both Rush University Medical Center and Johns Hopkins University, has been cleared to resume full basketball-related activities. Medical testing revealed that Markkanen’s symptoms (e.g. rapid heart rate) were primarily related to a combination of dehydration and nutrient deficiency.
  • In addition to his comments regarding Dunn, Paxson also iterated today (via the Bulls’ official Twitter handle) how the team is looking to add versatility to the wing position this off-season, with some lineups next year featuring Markkanen at the five and Otto Porter Jr. at the four.
  • As part of his story on Boylen’s extension, Cowley notes that Paxson quickly shot down the idea of demoting general manager Gar Forman, stating that Forman’s job is safe and reiterating that “(Forman is) very good at what he does.”

Bulls Will ‘Absolutely’ Retain Paxson, Forman

The Bulls have no plans to replace executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson or general manager Gar Forman in their front office anytime soon, team president and COO Michael Reinsdorf tells K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Reinsdorf confirmed in no uncertain terms that Paxson and Forman would be back next season.

“Absolutely. We believe they’ve done a great job,” Reinsdorf said of the duo. “I know that in this market, with some of our fans and some in the media, they look at it differently. That perplexes me. Let’s talk about them individually because that’s another thing I don’t understand — why they’re referred to as ‘GarPax’ when they have different job responsibilities.

“… I said [previously] that if we ever felt we weren’t headed in the right direction that we’d be open to change. But we’re nowhere near that. John’s ability to build rosters is proven. We have the utmost confidence in him.”

Reinsdorf took exception to the idea that the Bulls have gone through a handful of rebuilds under Paxson and Forman, arguing that this is just the club’s second rebuild, and stating that he believes it’s very much on the right track. Pointing to promising young players like Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, and Wendell Carter, Reinsdorf likened the Bulls to the Kings and expressed optimism that Chicago can take a similar step forward next season.

The Bulls’ president and COO also offered a defense of Forman’s draft record, praising the GM for selecting players like Jimmy Butler, Nikola Mirotic, Taj Gibson, and Bobby Portis outside of the lottery over the years. The selection of Markkanen at No. 7 in 2017 earned high praise from Reinsdorf as well.

“If we look at Lauri Markkanen, if you did the 2017 draft over again, Lauri in theory could be the No. 1 pick in the draft,” Reinsdorf said. “You might say Jayson Tatum or Donovan Mitchell. But Lauri could be the No. 1 pick. That’s how good that pick was at No. 7.”

While Paxson, Forman, and head coach Jim Boylen have all received plenty of criticism from segments of the Bulls’ fanbase over the course of the 2018/19 season, it sounds like all three will be back to start the 2019/20 campaign. In addition to praising the club’s management team, Reinsdorf echoed Paxson’s earlier comments on Boylen returning for next season, lauding the work he has done with Markkanen and LaVine.

“Nothing has changed from what John has said,” Reinsdorf said. “I’m very happy with the job that Jim has done. Everything he has said he was going to do, he has done.”

Paxson Talks Holiday Trade, Parker, Payne, Future

The Bulls (10-29) are tied with the Knicks for the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference, and are focused on the future. That was signaled by this week’s trade that sent veteran swingman Justin Holiday to the Grizzlies for Wayne SeldenMarShon Brooks and two second-round picks. Chicago also subsequently waived Cameron Payne to created a roster spot.

Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson spoke to reporters, including NBC Sports Chicago’s Mark Strotman, on Friday and said the Holiday trade came together “in a couple of hours.” Paxson also addressed Jabari Parker‘s future with the team, Chicago’s plan leading up to the trade deadline and expectations of new head coach Jim Boylen.

On potentially making more trades before the deadline…

“That’s what has to happen. Things have to align. You can’t just force it. Again, if we can acquire young players, draft assets, we can maybe look at our roster and think there’s a better fit, we’ll go that route.”

On Parker’s future in Chicago…

“The one thing [Boylen] has been really consistent with is the accountability aspect. I believe you can hold players to a certain standard of what you want as a coach. Jabari is a really good guy. You guys have been around him. He’s a terrific person. If we can acclimate him back into things, he’s going to get a chance. This league is about getting chances, even for players who have been through what Jabari has been through.”

The decision to part with Payne…

“You make decisions and hope for the best. The reality is both (Ryan Arcidiacono) and (Shaq Harrison) have outplayed him. They fit what we want to do. Cam had some struggles with his foot and trying to get him back. We wish him well.”

On the Bulls’ future and player development…

“Very important. It’s really important. We need to see growth. We need to see how they play. We’re a month into [Boylen]’s tenure now, and I think they understand what’s expected. So we’re going to go out on the road here after these next two games. That’s a good time for a young team to get together. They’re going to be hard games. We just need to see development. That’s going to be a big key.”

Bulls Considering Leadership Committee

The Bulls discussed forming a leadership committee after this weekend’s incidents involving new coach Jim Boylen, according to Malika Andrews and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. If it happens, committee members will help to foster communication and mitigate disputes that arise between players and coaches.

Bulls players reacted angrily after Boylen, who took over for Fred Hoiberg last week, scheduled a Sunday practice in the midst of a three-game stretch in four nights. Boylen has been holding strenuous practice sessions since becoming head coach, and players objected to the additional wear and tear in the midst of a difficult part of the schedule.

Some players discussed boycotting Sunday’s session, but Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez helped to quell that rebellion. All the players showed up, but there was no practice, just two meetings — one involving just players and another between players and coaches with team president John Paxson and GM Gar Forman present.

Boylen reportedly has the full support of management in his get-tough approach with the team. However, he explained in the second meeting that he wasn’t intending to hold a hard practice on Sunday and stressed to players that they need to learn to trust him.

Zach LaVine told the ESPN writers he met one-on-one with Boylen and tried to explain his perspective.

“You just want to be real with people,” LaVine said. “There shouldn’t be any clouds. I think of myself as one of the leaders on the team. I just wanted to voice my opinion to them. This is a business, this isn’t a dictatorship. We are all grown men, so everybody has a voice.”

Paxson: Bulls GM Gar Forman Is ‘Absolutely Safe’

While the Bulls fired head coach Fred Hoiberg today, they don’t expect to part ways with general manager Gar Forman anytime soon, according to executive VP of basketball operations John Paxson.

As K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune relays, Paxson issued a strong defense of Forman today, telling reporters that the GM is “absolutely safe” in his current role, a stance that sources confirmed privately to Johnson. Paxson also dismissed the idea that Hoiberg’s initial hiring was all on Forman.

“First of all, the belief that Gar solely made that decision was wrong and always has been,” Paxson said. “Those are reports. We can’t battle everything. I was 100% on board with hiring Fred. Jerry (Reinsdorf) and Michael (Reinsdorf) were 100% on board with hiring Fred. I work with Gar every day. I understand his internal value to this organization.”

Paxson technically sits above Forman in Chicago’s basketball operations hierarchy, but the general manager has a significant voice in roster moves and coaching hires, with Paxson indicating today that the two executives work in tandem and “make decisions together.” Those coaching and personnel decisions have been hit-and-miss for the Bulls in recent years, and Forman has also faced criticism for not speaking more to reporters, which Paxson addressed this afternoon with Forman unavailable for comment.

“I’m the person who will stand up in front and talk about why we do certain things. That’s just the way it is,” Paxson said. “It’s not that he’s not talking because he doesn’t want to. It’s because I choose to speak for this organization. And I feel passionately about his role with us.

“We’ve made some great decisions in terms of young personnel the last couple years,” Paxson continued. “And as we have the opportunity to make more decisions, he’ll be front and center. We’ll work in tandem and we hope to do the right thing.”

Central Notes: LaVine, Parker, Pistons

Comments from Bulls vice president John Paxson suggest that the franchise is keen on letting the market decide pending restricted free agent Zach LaVine‘s value and, as Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun Times writes, the 23-year-old’s fate remains a dicey topic.

Cowley writes that a source of his claims that LaVine’s camp regards him as a max or close-to-max player but that the Bulls may not be so sure.

The Bulls, he adds, have been passive in restricted free agency negotiations in the past, “lowballing” Jimmy Butler back in 2015 and letting the market dictate Nikola Mirotic‘s value last summer.

Well, the market dictates a lot and how things go,” Paxson said. “I think the market has tightened up a little bit the last couple of years since the spike. [The Bulls] obviously value Zach a lot, and we think he’s a part of our future, but he has the opportunity to explore things.

There’s more from the Central Division:

Central Notes: Bulls, Cavs, Pistons

The Bulls are walking a fine line between developing young players and outright tanking, K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune writes. The organization’s recent decision to sideline starters Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday is one glaring examples of the club’s bold strategy down the stretch.

While vice president John Paxson did proactively say the Bulls would be launching a player-development plan when the team returned from the All-Star Break, league commissioner Adam Silver is on a mission to curb the thought that teams could be losing on purpose.

To Paxson’s credit, there’s merit to the idea of auditioning unproven players during the final months of an otherwise lost campaign, gauging how individuals fare with heavier workloads is an essential part of planning for the future. The question is how well the Bulls can balance that with putting a reasonably competitive team out on the floor.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • The Cavaliers added four rotation players at the trade deadline, so it’s not surprising that head coach Tyronn Lue is still sizing up what exactly he has on his hands. “I just want to see what I’m working with,” Lue told Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com. “I really don’t know the guys that much, that well. Just want to see in big moments, pressure situations, how they perform. They performed well and they’ve been performing well.
  • The Pistons hope that Reggie Jackson is able to practice on March 11, prior to the team embarking on a six-game road trip, Keith Langlois of the team’s official site tweets.
  • Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy views his decision to take Eric Moreland out of the team’s rotation as a mistake, Geoff Robinson of The Detroit News writes. The bench boss plans to amend that by getting Moreland more minutes in order to capitalize on the energy he brings.