Chicago Bulls’ fans have been lobbying for general manager Gar Forman and Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson, collectively known as GarPax, to be relieved of their duties for the last half decade. The two have earned a reputation as overly prudent overseers whose pride alienates top talent. However, despite GarPax’s inability to lure top free agents, the Bulls have enjoyed spells of success, highlighted by two division titles and one run to the Eastern Conference Finals. So how did two executives so thoroughly detested in their own city manage to keep the Chicago Bulls relevant? Pointed draft strategies and late-round successes in the NBA Draft.
Despite Bulls’ fans inability to accept anything resembling a Garpax compliment, it is difficult to discount their drafting abilities. Like any other front office, GarPax have glaring misfires that blemish their overall resume. However, their ability to recognize NBA talent regardless of draft position is a rare skill in today’s league.
First, let’s take a look at their misfires.
Prior to being named Vice President of Basketball Operations, Paxson served as the Chicago Bulls’ general manager from 2003 to 2009. During his tenure as general manager, Paxson infamously drafted perennial all-star LaMarcus Aldridge, only to trade him to the Portland Trailblazers for Tyrus Thomas. Thomas would go on to occupy a bench role for middling NBA teams while Aldridge would proceed to make seven all-star teams during his 14-year career.
In 2010, GarPax drafted small forward Kevin Séraphin directly above both Eric Bledsoe and Avery Bradley. While Bradley and Bledsoe currently occupy starting roles on championship contending teams, Séraphin fizzled out of the league after the 2016-17 season, never averaging more than nine points per game (ppg).
In 2012, GarPax drafted point guard Marquis Teague out of the University of Kentucky with the No. 29 overall pick. Throughout his brief career, Teague looked overmatched from both a physical and mental standpoint, averaging 2.4 ppg and 1.0 assists per game (apg) over 91 career games. Still available were current Bulls’ starting point guard Tomas Satoransky, defensive stalwart Jae Crowder and three-time NBA champion Draymond Green.
In 2013, Tony Snell was selected at 20th over current MVP candidate Rudy Gobert. Three years later, the Bulls wasted the 14th pick on Denzel Valentine, passing on Caris LeVert and Pascal Siakam in the process.
Finally, the Bulls traded both Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris for the draft rights to Creighton’s Doug McDermott. McDermott, a lumbering three-point specialist who earned Player of the Year honors as a senior, was unable to keep pace with the speed on the NBA. Meanwhile, Harris has helped spearhead the Denver Nuggets’ return to relevance while Nurkic currently serves as the starting center for the Portland Trailblazers.
However, for all of GarPax’s draft day failures, they’ve also enjoyed resounding successes. As general manager, Paxson drafted exceptionally well in the top ten. It may seem like a radical concept now, but entering the 2008 draft, Derrick Rose was not the consensus No. 1 draft prospect. Instead, he was in competition with Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, who averaged 26.2 ppg and 12.4 rebounds per game (rpg) as a freshman.
Between 2003 and 2007, Paxson drafted Kirk Hinrich seventh overall, Ben Gordan third overall and Joakim Noah ninth overall. Hinrich would go on to set the Bulls’ franchise record in three-point field goals. Ben Gordon would secure a Sixth Man of the Year award as a rookie before going on to average 20 or more ppg twice in his career. Noah would anchor the Bulls defense for close to a decade, earning two all-star selections and MVP consideration in 2013-14 following Rose’s season-ending injury.
However, it is Garpax’s success while drafting in the final third of the first round that comes as the biggest surprise. In 2014, GarPax selected Taj Gibson with the 26th selection. Gibson would play an instrumental role off the bench during the Bulls’ run of seven consecutive playoff appearances.
In the 2015 NBA draft, the Bulls selected Bobby Portis with the 22nd overall pick. Like Gibson, Portis carved out an invaluable role as a spark plug off the bench before the Bulls traded him to the Washington Wizards for Otto Porter Jr.
However, the biggest feather is GarPax’s cap was the uncovering of diamond-in-the-rough Jimmy Butler. Butler, an unheralded prospect out of Marquette University, was selected in 2011 with the final selection of the first round. Since then, Butler has emerged as premier offensive and defensive talent, earning four all-star selections, two third team All-NBA berths and four second team All-Defensive selections.
GarPax’s inability to attract free agents to a major sports market has rightfully earned vitriol from the Chicago Bulls’ faithful. However, in contrast to franchises like the New York Knicks, GarPax’s drafting abilities have kept the Chicago Bulls from devolving into outright desolation, so we can at the very least be thankful for that.