Chicago Bulls execs have toxic history with coaches

Chicago Bulls (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Chicago Bulls (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Bulls may have a new vice president of basketball operations and a new general manager, but it all means nothing if they can’t inspire confidence in a head coach.

Let’s explore the toxicity illuminated over the years between former Chicago Bulls head coaches Phil Jackson and Tom Thibodeau under the leadership of former general managers Jerry Krause and Gar Forman and what the organization must learn from the past.

During the first few episodes of ESPN and Netflix’s “The Last Dance”, a bit of dirty laundry was aired highlighting the Bulls’ problems as they pursued an opportunity to win their sixth NBA championship title.

The year was 1997. Jackson had learned that Krause wanted him out of the job as Bulls’ head coach regardless of how well the team performed, in part, because the window of opportunity for success was seemingly coming to a close. As the documentary shows, the relationship between both sides reached a virtual standstill.

A power struggle had been brewing for years between Jackson and the front office executives, as well, as between the front office executives and the players on the roster. As the documentary indicates, Krause and his reputation came under fire for remarks he made years ago attributing the success of the Bulls to the front office executives. Jackson and the players took issue with it.

Former Bulls star Michael Jordan is seen and heard in the documentary cracking jokes about Krause. His teammate Scottie Pippen is also highlighted for publicly airing his frustrations with the Bulls’ general manager.

As the documentary shows, Jackson and the team became motivated to prove a point to the front office executives. No one was more determined than Jordan. The 1997-1998 season, as the documentary shows, became aptly titled “The Last Dance” because it gave Jackson and the players on the roster the opportunity to leave a last impression before the front office executives embarked on a rebuild of the franchise.

Who had the final word?

Most likely it was the Bulls’ front office executives to have the final word, but it doesn’t matter.

Why, you ask?

The Bulls have struggled to find success for many years since the Jordan era ended. It’s best to blame it on the front office executives. After all, it’s not always the last person to speak in an argument that wins. As the well-known saying goes, actions speak louder than words.

Although the Bulls had their ups and downs during the 1997-1998 season, the team still managed to clinch the eight seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Things didn’t end in the first round or the next. As history shows, the Bulls found themselves in the NBA Finals competing for a sixth NBA Championship title. And, of course, the rest is history as we know it.

Fast forward to the 2014-2015 season. Thibodeau faces the same fate as Jackson, but the decision would be made this time around at the discretion of Forman.

The Bulls were having a bit of success at the time, but some questioned if it appeared the team’s window for opportunity to win a title was inching to a close. The health of former Bulls star Derrick Rose kept the team’s hopes in limbo.

What’s interesting is the way the Bulls continued to win allowing the team to make a playoff push year after year. At the same time, the postseason runs didn’t give the team much to tout.

Growing concerned for the state of the Bulls and wanting to shake things up, Forman gave Thibodeau the boot signaling the start of a change in direction for the organization.

One commonality shared between these two periods of Bulls history is the presence of John Paxson as a player and as a vice president of basketball operations.

How, you ask?

As a player, Paxson was present for the Bulls’ successes and troubles during much of the1980s and 1990s as the documentary shows. He saw firsthand the toxicity ignited between the Bulls’ general manager and head coach, which ultimately sent Jackson packing.

Fast forward to the 2014-2015 season. As vice president of basketball operations, Paxson stood idle when Forman and the Bulls decided to fire Thibodeau.

Isn’t it a weird coincidence how two of the Bulls’ most-winning coaches were both fired over what appeared to be successful tenures?

I think not.

The hope is that the Bulls organization doesn’t let history repeat itself.

Next. 3 Dennis Rodman teammates you forgot about. dark

I must give kudos to Paxson for stepping aside and allowing the Bulls to embark on a search for a new top executive, which prompted an attempt to find another general manager. Under the leadership Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, I hope the Bulls are headed in the right direction, which is up. After all, the fans are counting on it.