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Is the Bulls’ Legacy Beyond Salvage?

“All good men and women must take the responsibility to create great legacies that will take the next generation to a level that we can only imagine.” — Jim Rohn

What is a legacy?

How does an organization maintain a legacy?

As the torch passes from one generation to the next, is it enough to protect the legacy of a franchise with status quo moves and sub-.500 seasons?

Certainly team president Michael Reinsdorf has a little more pride than that. After all, his dad is still the owner and part of a bygone era where the Bulls were the pride of the City of Chicago.

But to look at today’s Chicago Bulls, a shell of their former selves, a cumulative train wreck for the better part of the last 21 years, one has to wonder if they are on the edge of becoming the league’s laughing stock – or if they’re already there with the perceived ineptitude of ‘GarPax’ – the disastrous combination of General Manager Gar Forman and President of Basketball Operations John Paxson.

“Dude, I’m telling you, I can’t even watch the game of basketball these days, much less even the Chicago Bulls,” says former Bulls fan Robert Hogan. “And they were my team, dude.”

In short, this franchise has gone from a legacy to a full blown, all out disgrace, if I’m feeling Robert correctly.

While current assistant coach Pete Myers could talk for days about trying to have the team step out of Michael Jordan’s shadow, he probably is suffering deja vu as an assistant because the teams that GarPax have assembled of late haven’t been the material to write home about whatsoever any more than the team’s that ol’ No. 20 tried to steer as a guard.

It was Paxson that took the reins from legendary general manager Jerry Krause in 2003, and after a disastrous first year of 23 wins and 59 losses, Paxson went on to make nominal moves to get the Bulls into the playoffs five of the next six years, but with little results to brag about – they got there but exited the first round in all five appearances.

During that time frame, Paxson snagged Ben Gordon with the third pick and journeymen Jackson Vroman and Chris Duhon in 2004, some nominal moves in 2005 – one of which was the acquisition of Luol Deng, and over time, dismantled what was thought to be the second coming of the Twin Towers in Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler.

Paxson had a shot at LaMarcus Aldridge in 2006 and traded him to Portland (which may have been the biggest boner Paxson has ever pulled). 

He nabbed Joakim Noah with the ninth pick in 2007 along with Aaron Gray and JamesOn Curry with second round picks, and lucked into Derrick Rose with the No. 1 pick in 2008, but we all know how Rose’s story has gone since his outstanding rookie of the season.

Six years later, Forman would replace Paxson as the GM and his results weren’t any more impressive than Paxson’s, who’d simply moved upstairs to PBO.

In a decade, Forman has lumbered into James Johnson and Taj Gibson in 2009,Kevin Seraphin in 2010 (traded), 2011 brought Norris Cole (sent to Miami) and Jimmy Butler at pick No. 30, who was supposed to be the next Michael Jordan, remember? Marquis Teague in 2012, Tony Snell (now a Milwaukee Buck) in 2013, and another big man snafu in 2014 when the team traded Jusuf Nurkic to Denver after drafting him, along with Gary Harris three picks later.

In the past five years, all that Forman has to show for the team’s investment in him as a general manager is Bobby Portis (gone), Justin Patton (traded), Wendell Carter Jr., Denzel Valentine, and this year’s pick, Coby White.

Forman’s best and worst move both regarded head coach Tom Thibodeau. 

Thibs brought some intensity into the Bulls organization that had been missing for the better part of the first decade of the post-Jordan era. Rumor had it that his intensity and work regimen alienated a number of players, however in retrospect, it seems that Butler – not Thibodeau – may have been the issue, if we can attribute hindsight to be 20/20, as Thibs and Butler didn’t gel in Minnesota, either.

Thibodeaux got the ax and the whiners got contract extensions, and were now treated to playing for college coaching sensation Fred Hoiberg, which lasted about only half as long as Thibodeau’s stint, before the Bulls went back to discipline and defense with current head coach Jim Boylen.

The question is, with a roster that includes a seemingly healthy Zach LaVine, the $26 million dollar man in Otto Porter Jr., White, Carter, and newcomer Thaddeus Young, will the Bulls ever burst out of the mediocrity bubble they’ve lived in since Jordan hung up his kicks for good?

If so, great – then my good friend Robert can go back to watching a game he once loved, the team he once loved. 

But if I’m a betting man – if the last two decades of lethargy have served as any sort of precedent – then the dumpster fire known as GarPax may just very well set up the second greatest conflagration that the City of Chicago has ever endured.

After all, it’s been smoldering for 20 years now – something’s gotta give.

Reinsdorf pride, if nothing else. It’s certainly being taxed at this point.

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Tracy Graven is a Senior NBA Analyst who has covered the NBA, G League and NCAA Basketball for nearly 20 years. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee with his wife and five children.

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