Paxson confident Bulls can push pace; gives support to Dunn
Not sure if there are official records on this, but Thursday felt like the longest NBA draft in the two-round era.
By the time Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson descended the stairs at the Advocate Center to talk about the night, there wasn't much energy left in the building.
Draft night is usually straightforward anyway. New additions Coby White and Daniel Gafford could turn out to be great players, total busts or something in between. A draft pick is always a great choice right after it happens.
The most pressing question after drafting a point guard is what happens to Kris Dunn, the previous point guard of the future, a No. 5 draft pick and key piece in the Jimmy Butler trade.
Paxson's answer on Thursday was nothing happens. The Bulls will be looking forward to healthy competition in training camp and can envision Dunn and White playing together. Dunn has one season left on his rookie contract.
"I've mentioned many times since the season ended that we haven't given up on Kris," Paxson said. "He's a good basketball player. We still value Kris very much. But competition is a part of this business. You have to have that. The goal for us is to be deeper, more talented."
The backcourt reality figures to be more complicated. The Bulls sorely need to get some veterans in the lineup to give the rebuilding project a kick in the pants. With Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter Jr. already on board, point guard is the logical spot to chase someone in free-agency.
Would the Bulls head into next season with White, Dunn and a veteran point guard on the roster? It's possible, since Dunn's trade value is low right now. But it wouldn't be surprising if they try to find Dunn a new home.
The irony here is Dunn is the one young player who's helped the Bulls win games. He was a catalyst of the 14-7 stretch during the 2017-18 season. If that never happened, the Bulls would have had a higher draft pick and maybe they'd be the team who took on an extra first-rounder from Dallas last year, instead of Atlanta. But here they are, with three straight No. 7 picks, while Dunn might be on his way out.
Another question is if coach Jim Boylen will commit to playing at a fast pace to take advantage of White's speed. White told reporters Thursday he had a great meeting with Boylen when he visited Chicago last weekend.
"We're not pushing anything onto our head coach," Paxson said. "Jim wants to play faster. Jim has a philosophy; the multiple ballhandler system is something that lends itself to playing faster, because you can get the ball off the board hopefully and guys can push it themselves. But you need a commitment to running. And I don't think we've always had guys committed to running."
White could be a good fit in the lineup. Since LaVine often handles the ball, White could switch between pushing the pace or a spot-up shooter.
The pace under Boylen last season varied between a slow crawl and the Warriors. When he took over for Fred Hoiberg Dec. 3, Boylen emphasized defense and the offense was worst in the league by a wide margin. He also talked about wanting to play slow and smart on the road.
A few months later, though, Boylen shifted to the multiple ballhandler plan and became one of the most effective offensive teams in the league, until everyone got hurt.
Paxson plugged new assistant coach Chris Fleming, who was hired away from Brooklyn, as someone who could help create a fast-paced offensive scheme.
"The great players want to learn, they want to be coached, they want to feel that you're invested in them," Paxson said. "And our guys feel that. It's pretty obvious right now that our guys understand what Jim's philosophy is. He is going to coach them hard but young guys need to be coached hard."
Paxson didn't say much about free-agency, which begins June 30. The Bulls have $20.8 million in cap space and a strong need for some veterans. But they also have plenty of roster spots spoken for, between White, Dunn, Lavine, Markkanen, Porter, Wendell Carter Jr., Denzel Valentine, Chandler Hutchison, Cristiano Felicio, Antonio Blakeney and second-round pick Daniel Gafford. They're also expected to bring back Shaq Harrison, who has an option for next season.
"We have ideas in free agency. They've got to be the right type of guys for us," Paxson said. "Jim often talks about he wants the competitive guys, he wants the tough guys, the tough-minded people. I think we got two tough-minded young people (Thursday). We have to approach it the same way as we get into free agency."