Yesterday it came to light that Chicago Bulls Vice President of Basketball Operations, John Paxson, confronted head coach Vinny Del Negro following a game on March 30 culminating in Paxson grabbing Del Negro's tie, jabbing him in the chest, challenged him to a fight and had to be pulled away by assistan coach Bernie Bickerstaff. The dispute apparently started over Del Negro's breach of an agreement on the amount of minutes Joakim Noah would be limited too as he comes back from injury.
This should be the last straw for Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf to fire Paxson who's been a part of the organization since 1985 as a player, assistant coach, radio broadcaster, general manager and in his current role.
Paxson began his front office career in promising fashion, but since that sparkling start has fallen off. The results is a Bulls team that seems perpetually fighting for a seed in the lower half of the Eastern Conference, but isn't able to make the jump up to the league's elite.
Hired in April 2003 to replace Jerry Krause as GM, Paxson took over for a Bulls team built around the twin towers of Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry that had a strong finish to the 2003 season. That offseason he drafted Kirk Hinrich No. 7 overall in the draft to replace the injured Jay Williams. Hinrich was named a member of the 2003-04 NBA All-Rookie team and is still a part of the team.
The next summer was Paxson's best period as GM. In the 2004 NBA Draft, Paxson found immediate contributors, drafting Ben Gordon No. 3 overall and Chris Duhon No. 38 overall in the second round. In the same draft he also traded for the No. 7 pick from the Suns and landed Luol Deng in exchange for $3 million cash and a future first round pick which ended up being the 21st pick in next year's draft, Nate Robinson. He then signed undrafted rookie free agent Andres Nocioni who had won a gold medal with Argentina in the Olympics and been named MVP of the Spanish A League that season.
The moves paid immediate dividends as the team made an unexpected return to the playoffs finishing with a 47-35 record, good enough for the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference (ahaha Leastern Conference, so funny). The Bulls lost their first round series with the Wizards in 6 games after going up 2-0 in the series, but Curry and Deng were unable to play in the series due to injuries, the former with a mysterious heart condition.
Curry had been diagnosed with a heart problem before the playoffs and Paxson would not allow him back on the court in any capacity with the team unless he underwent DNA testing. Curry refused and demanded a trade and as the saga carried on it became obvious Paxson had to make a move sooner or later.
Paxson smartly took advantage of Isiah Thomas' desperation for mismatched talent, trading Curry and Antonio Davis to the Knicks for Michael Sweetney, Tim Thomas and two unprotected first round picks in 2006 and 2007. The Bulls had the option of swapping for the 2007 pick with the Knicks depending on the two teams' draft position.
The Bulls struggled without Curry's inside scoring presence and dropped back to the pack finishing with a 41-41 record. In the playoffs they faced off against that year's eventual champion Miami Heat, losing in 6 competitive, physical games. This prompted many to speculate that with the addition of size in the frontcourt and a low post scorer the Bulls would become a championship contender.
This was the summer in which Paxson began to screw everything up.
The Bulls entered the summer of 2006 with a roster full of young talent, coming off of an impressive playoff performance against the eventual NBA champions and had enough cap space to sign a major free agent. They also were armed with the Knicks' first round pick which ended up being No. 2 pick overall.
With that choice Paxson drafted LaMarcus Aldridge, a player with the size and low post scoring ability that they needed, and then promptly shipped him off to the Blazers in return for the rights to No. 4 pick Tyrus Thomas and the man, the myth, the legend, Viktor Khryapa.
Instead of having Aldridge, who's developed a nice inside-outside game, Chicago was stuck with a hyper athletic forward in Thomas, who had no real skills other than an ability to occasionally hit a jump shot and dunk. He was traded at the trade deadline this year for the expiring contracts of Ronald "Flip" Murray and Acie Law and a 2012 first round pick.
He followed up this draft debacle by signing a 31-year old Ben Wallace who's game had been on the decline for three consecutive season. His per game averages had dropped in both rebounding and blocked shots during all those seasons. Wallace's defensive rating, measured as the points your team allows per 100 possession when you are on the floor, rose from 87 in 2003-04 to 95 in 2005-06. That's a significant jump considering the slow pace and halfcourt style those Pistons teams played, especially for a player acquired for his defensive acumen.
The worst part of the Wallace signing was that Paxson used up nearly all of the team's cap room to sign him to a whopping 4-year, $60 million deal, with the 4th year being a team option. Not only was the deal detrimental in terms of hurting the team's cap situation, but Wallace's inability to make the Bulls a championship contender and continued decline on the court gave him little trade value. This was a crippling and inexcusable mistake that set the team back when it was ready to take a leap forward.
To compound the financial mess he had already created Paxson gave Kirk Hinrich a 5-year, $47 million extension. Hinrich is a good guard and was just coming off of a season in which he averaged 16.6 points and 6.3 assists per game, but he shot a paltry 41.8% from the field. The smartest part of this move was frontloading the contract to give the Bulls more cap space in future. They are still on the hook for $17 million over the next two years by which time Hinrich will be 31.
The result of all these moves that many prognosticators predicted would lead to a championship run instead turned into an epic failure. The Bulls finished 49-33 in the 2006-07 season earning the 5th seed and swept the Heat in the first round. In the next round they went down 3-0 to the Pistons, Wallace's former team, before being eliminated in six games.
With the 8th picks in the 2007 NBA draft courtesy of Isiah Thomas' mission to kill the Knicks, the Bulls drafted Joakim Noah who has since developed into a tenacious defender and an insatiable rebounder. It's a good thing Tyrus Thomas turned into that perfect complimentary low post threat......
The Bulls flopped the following season reversing their win-loss record from the year before and finishing 33-49. On the positive side they were able to find a taker for Wallace in Cleveland completing a three-way trade also involving the franchise formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics. Paxson also fired head coach Scott Skiles.
In the offseason Paxson received a gift for being the most interesting man in the world landing the No. 1 pick and with it Derrick Rose. He also made a terrible move in hiring Del Negro as head coach, but that move probably has Jerry Reinsdorf's penny pinching ownership.
He also made a poor financial move last summer, signing Luol Deng to a 6-year, $71 million deal. Deng is a very good complimentary player, but he's only played in 49 games each the last two seasons and does not command the $10.3 million salary he's earning this year or the $1 million raises he'll be getting every year until 2014.
The Bulls squeaked into the playoffs last year with a 41-41 record and lost in a thrilling seven game opening round series against a depleted Celtics squad.
This summer they allowed Ben Gordon to walk when he received an outrageous 5-year, $55 million offer from the Pistons. They attempted to replace him on the cheap by signing Jannero Pargo hoping to rekindle the flame with the ex-Bull, but he's been a disappointment. They also drafted James Johnson and Taj Gibson to solidify the frontcourt, but the team still lacks the same things it was missing back in 2006 ; a low post threat, size in the frontcourt and a legitimate low post threat.
For all of his mismanagement and excessive spending alone Paxson deserves to be fired. Let's not even get into his decision not to trade for Pau Gasol in 2006 because he didn't want to part with Deng. How does that move look now?
His latest transgression is just the last piece of the puzzle that should seal his fate over the summer. Paxson started off well and occasionally has shown the ability to act decisively to his team's advantage with a sharp eye for talent, drafting Noah and also swinging a deadline deal for John Salmons and Brad Miller last season.
Unfortunately for every good there seems to have been 2-3 bad ones that have had this team stuck in neutral with only one playoff series victory in Paxson's seven year tenure. For a team that looked to be on the verge of fighting for conference supremacy and NBA titles three seasons ago, there's one man responsible for the consistently disappointing results and it's time to cut him loose.