Paxson's influence convinced Reinsdorf to make a change

Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf said something funny during the teleconference Monday to officially announce the hiring of Arturas Karnisovas as the team's new head of basketball operations.

After a series of interviews, Reinsdorf was convinced he'd found the right candidate, but he had to get approval from his father, longtime Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

"I think what my dad said after our meeting, when we reconvened, 'I never thought you would find anyone as great as Arturas,' " Michael Reinsdorf said. "So I knew we were done."

That line sounds kind of like the old cliché of a dad telling his son, "I can't believe you finally did something right." More likely, it meant Jerry Reinsdorf was surprised the Bulls found such a worthy candidate.

The Bulls also announced that John Paxson's new job title will be senior adviser of basketball operations and Gar Forman had been relieved of his duties as general manager. Both moves had been expected for months.

Changes like this are rare for the Bulls. Since Jerry Reinsdorf led the group that bought the team in 1985, only two men had led the basketball-operations department - Paxson and Jerry Krause, who Paxson replaced in 2003.

"John Paxson came to me and my dad, I think it was around December," Reinsdorf said. "He felt the organization needed to make a change. He thought we were too set in our ways. When you look at it, our basketball department had long been one of the smallest departments in the league and it really hadn't grown with the times."

When Michael Reinsdorf stepped into the Bulls' front office in 2010, he focused mostly on the business side, while trusting Paxson and Forman to run the basketball operations.

After Paxson took over, the Bulls made the playoffs 11 times in 13 seasons. Michael Reinsdorf agreed to launch the rebuild in 2017, which meant losing seasons were ahead. So when people wonder why the Bulls waited so long to make changes, it was because Paxson never lost the trust of the Reinsdorf family.

Michael Reinsdorf said after those initial conversations he began to study other teams' organizational structures and tried to figure out what other teams were doing differently from the Bulls.

"During this process, I learned a lot," he said. "I learned that there's no one way of building a strong and sustainable operation or team. But the two keys to success are having the right people and the right processes in place."

The Bulls have long been one of the most profitable operations in professional sports. Why would they have one of the NBA's smallest basketball-operations departments when they have the means to do so much more?

The simple answer is Paxson and Forman thought they had things under control. They didn't think additional opinions were necessary. There were some concessions along the way. The Bulls were a little behind the curve on the G-League but did bring the Windy City Bulls to Hoffman Estates in 2016.

As mentioned here before, the Bulls seemed to take a wrong turn during the time when Paxson took a sabbatical and Forman was left in charge. That's when things got chaotic with disagreements between Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau, the firing of assistant Ron Adams and other things.

Paxson tried to come back and take control of the situation, but things were never the same. The Jabari Parker signing in 2018 probably was the last straw. No one saw that as a good fit, but the Bulls tried it anyway, then sealed their fate by trading Parker for Otto Porter, a disappointing player on a bad contract.

Many of the Bulls' top candidates for this job were not made available for interviews, which is one reason Karnisovas quickly jumped to the top of the list.

"The night before our informal interview, I picked up the phone unplanned and gave him a call," Michael Reinsdorf said. "I thought it would be kind of a short call just to say hello. But we had a great, great conversation. We ended up, just the two of us, speaking for about 90 minutes or so."

Interviews continued over the next couple of days and, after the Jerry Reinsdorf meeting, the Bulls quickly closed the deal and agreed to contract terms.

"It was so clear that Arturas checked every box for us," Michael Reinsdorf said. "I was really excited. I knew he was the right person for us."

Karnisovas acknowledged his first two hires, as previously reported. J.J. Polk and Pat Connolly will be assistant general managers. Polk was a salary-cap expert in New Orleans the past 10 years, while Connolly - a younger brother of Tim Connolly, Karnisovas' old boss in Denver - is a player-personnel specialist who held that job in Phoenix.

Karnisovas talked about his decision not to retain Forman, who joined the Bulls as a scout in 1998 at the same time as Tim Floyd. Forman was an assistant coach for Floyd at Iowa State and New Orleans.

"Regarding Gar, I think after some consideration and conversation it was apparent we had different philosophies that would prevent us from moving forward," Karnisovas said. "I'm sure Gar gave his best to the Bulls' organization, but those decisions are never easy. I was hired to effect change in the current situation, so that was the decision behind that."

• Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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John Paxson is now a senior adviser for the Bulls. Associated Press
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