Before the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers tipped off in the penultimate warm-up to the guaranteed-to-be exhilarating 2017-18 regular season on Tuesday night, Derrick Rose had thoughts.
Touching on his new start in Cleveland and rehashing some details of his split with the Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose had some subtly stated (is he really ever anything else?) yet searing remarks on Tuesday.
Rose’s comments about the Bulls front office casted further serious doubt about the organization’s ability to repair its league wide image and compete in the open market of free agency with the current front office braintrust in place.
When asked if he ever envisioned teaming with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the Bulls in the summer of 2010, as the organization actively pursued the two superstars, Rose said that he did, and added the following, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:
People always said I didn’t recruit. I tried to recruit. I put out a video. But it wasn’t for me to say. I felt like the organization was supposed to say that. And they didn’t.
When asked why this information is just being unearthed now, after Rose took years of criticism for his purported aversion to recruiting, Rose said, “I just wanted to see who had my back.”
“I just wanted to see who had my back.”
And with that, the grave digger lowered the Bulls league-wide reputation a few hundred feet deeper to the scorching pits of the earth’s inner core.
Rose’s comments are the latest in a long line of critical comments by former players and public rifts between the Bulls and influential voices around the league that have damaged the Bulls brand. The genesis dates back to the repeated feuds between the Jordan Bulls and team management. Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson feuded regularly with Bulls management during their tenure and whether through direct badmouthing or poor optics, the Bulls long suffered in free agency due to the perception that they were not a player friendly organization.
When John Paxson took over for Krause in 2003, it represented a realistic opportunity to change the narrative and chatter. But, things have really only devolved from that point. In his now 15 years at the helm of the organization, the defining characteristic of the Paxson tenure has been an organizational willingness — even eagerness — to scapegoat players, coaches and anyone not named John Paxson or Gar Forman.
The list of players, coaches, even physical therapists, thrown under the bus by GarPax is long and runs the gamut of excuse-making and deflection. There was the Luol Deng “active rest” and “challenge himself physically” press release incident; the unnecessary and life threatening Luol Deng spinal tap; the assault on Vinny Del Negro; the Derrick Rose “has been cleared to play” leak to the press; the hit job of a press release issued following the firing of Tom Thibodeau; and most recently, the benching of Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade for attempting to show leadership and the eventual non-ideal dissolution of those relationships.
Each incident, coupled with the already lurking negative perception of the Bulls around the league, have combined to make the Bulls a last resort destination in the NBA. For example, in their last major pursuit of an elite free agent, there was talk circulating in 2014 that some close to Carmelo Anthony warned him against joining the Bulls because of the perceived way Bulls management treats its players. Whether this was a deciding factor will likely never be known, but the fact that it was even discussed — or even could have been discussed — is alarming enough in its own right.
In their own defense (GarPax has never been above indigent self-defense), the Bulls have pointed to some well-publicized acts of kindness and the organization’s strong relationships with a select few former players. And yes, while the Bulls taken care of some former players, it’s going to take more than a few radio/TV gigs or assistant coach/mole positions to repair the Bulls image around the league.
Which takes us back to the original question: will the Bulls ever be able to repair their image, and ultimately compete for star players, with GarPax at the helm?
In a league where stars control the league more than ever and control their destiny more than ever, it seems increasingly unlikely that an organization which has become as toxic as the Bulls, will be able to overcome its image problem without a total and complete detonation, leveling and reconstruction, not only of the roster, but of the entire organization as a whole.
If John Paxson and Gar Forman are anything, they are survivors. They have sifted, schemed, and slandered their way through 23 collective years at the helm of the Chicago Bulls. Together, they have been able to find scapegoats and shift blame away from themselves to survive in their roles.
But, after accusing enough players of faking injuries, and assaulting enough coaches, and now, after being found to have left enough 22-year-old faces of the franchise out to dry, the Bulls disastrous duo has run out of more talented underlings to blame. The league has caught up to the jig and it does not to seem to be falling for it any time in the near future.
It is now up to the family responsible for the stewardship of the franchise to do what is necessary to begin the repairing of a gravely damaged image.