Gar-Pax era started well, but took a wrong turn

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • In this April 13, 2016 file photo, Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, left, and general manager Gar Forman, address the media after an NBA basketball game between the Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers, in Chicago. The Bulls figured they would at least be coming off a playoff appearance if not a deep run. Instead, they come into Thursday's draft trying to regroup after one of the most disappointing, dysfunctional seasons in franchise history.

    In this April 13, 2016 file photo, Chicago Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, left, and general manager Gar Forman, address the media after an NBA basketball game between the Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers, in Chicago. The Bulls figured they would at least be coming off a playoff appearance if not a deep run. Instead, they come into Thursday's draft trying to regroup after one of the most disappointing, dysfunctional seasons in franchise history. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/4/2020 5:53 PM

The Bulls aren't exactly moving on from the Gar-Pax era.

Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson is expected to slide into a consulting role, while the future of general manager Gar Forman is undetermined.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But a change in management appears to be underway, with reports that the Bulls plan to begin interviewing candidates soon. The four names mentioned most often are Denver GM Arturas Karnisovas, Toronto GM Bobby Webster, Indiana GM Chad Buchanan and Miami assistant GM Adam Simon. There could be more names added to this list, and the Bulls may need permission from the current employers to speak with any of these candidates.

The Gar-Pax era started out successfully, but obviously took a wrong turn along the way.

Late in the 2002-03 season, with the Bulls' post-championship rebuild going nowhere, longtime general manager Jerry Krause resigned and Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf quickly settled on Paxson, the team's radio analyst at the time, as a replacement.

Forman joined the Bulls as a scout at the same time as Tim Floyd in 1998. Forman had served as an assistant coach under Floyd at Iowa State and New Orleans. Forman's staying power was impressive, because Floyd departed as head coach on Christmas Eve 2001.

At the beginning, everything Paxson did seemed to work. His first draft choice was Kirk Hinrich; he hired Scott Skiles as head coach; the Bulls added Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni and Chris Duhon in 2004, and surprisingly made the playoffs a year later.

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From that point, the Bulls made the playoffs 11 times in the next 13 seasons, advancing beyond the first round four times. Paxson first significant missteps were signing Ben Wallace as a free agent and trading LaMarcus Aldridge for Tyrus Thomas on draft night, but the brief dip was fortunate. The Bulls got lucky in the draft lottery and landed a star in Derrick Rose.

Most any Bulls fan would admit Paxson and Forman did a nice job of building a team around Rose. Joakim Noah was another winning draft pick, they added Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer in free agency, along with some helpful veterans.

Even after Rose's devastating ACL injury, the Bulls kept going to the playoffs as late-first round picks Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson blossomed, while short-term replacements like Nate Robinson an D.J. Augustin thrived under coach Tom Thibodeau.

During those years, though, Paxson got burned out and decided to take a step back. The Bulls needed someone to do deal with players agents and other NBA general managers, duties Paxson had grown tired of. Forman filled that role and was named the team's general manager in 2009.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

During the Thibodeau era, Paxson was still serving his role as director of basketball operations, but spoke up less often while Forman ran the show. As a scout, Forman did some impressive work. As leader of the Bulls' front office, chaos ensued.

The rift between Thibodeau and management became uncomfortable for players and staff. Players were wary of Randy Brown, who was Forman's top assistant, then moved to the coaching staff. A breaking point might have been when the Bulls refused to renew the contract of assistant coach Ron Adams, Thibodeau's close friend. Pettiness had replaced the quest for success.

Adams joined Golden State's coaching staff, the Warriors won three titles in four years and Steph Curry won MVP the first year he worked with Adams, just like Rose did in 2011. Meanwhile ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy often criticized the Bulls during broadcasts for treating Thibodeau poorly.

Eventually, Paxson perked up and returned. Bulls fans surely noticed the transition from Forman speaking for the team at news conferences, to Paxson and Forman together, to just Paxson the last year or two.

Paxson thought he could step back in and right the ship, but that never happened. The list of front office miscues grew longer, the rebuild sputtered and finally the Reinsdorf family decided it was time for a change.

Paxson and Forman had a pretty good run for most of their tenure together, but the Bulls are ready for a new voice.

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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