Links: Being John Paxson

by Lang Whitaker

You are John Paxson, and you are the General Manager of the Chicago Bulls. Your job is to use your wits and wiles to make the Chicago Bulls championship contenders. Thus far, some (OK, many) would argue that you haven’t done a very good job. You’ve drafted fairly well, picking up guys like Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon and Luol Deng. You signed Andres Nocioni, who has turned out to be an above-average forward. You also hired Scott Skiles, who, predictably, instilled discipline in his team while simultaneously alienating his team.

Fans were thrilled when you signed Ben Wallace to a huge contract, though that excitement ended pretty much overnight once the season began and it was obvious that you’d just overpaid for a player who had magically jumped the shark as soon as the ink dried on his deal. You tried to remedy this by moving Big Ben and your only good post player, Joe Smith, to the best team in your division for two ‘tweeners with big contracts, Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden.

Scott Skiles decided he was through a few months ago, so he took his whistle and went home. Maybe he was tired of the grind, you thought, and then Skiles signed up to coach a different team in the same division as Chicago. So maybe he just doesn’t believe in your ability to be a GM, you decide.

Then, luck struck: You were handed the fist pick in the stacked 2008 Draft. You’ve already got an undersized team, but you could still go with local guy pg Derrick Rose, or take scoring machine and post monster Mike Beasley. It’s a win-win, really. Except…

You don’t have a coach. Reports are that you’ve talked to a lot of candidates, from Avery Johnson to Mike D’Antoni, but you have yet to hire anyone, and the Draft is now just a couple of weeks away. Normally this might not be such a big deal, except there’s a good chance that the coach you hire could have specific wants and needs. Maybe he likes Ben Gordon and Hinrich and would prefer Beasley, or perhaps he’d rather take Rose and trade Hinrich. There’s a lot of possibilities, but not a lot of time.

And then the world finds out that you’ve been talking to Doug Collins. Doug Collins? Yes, that Doug Collins. The guy who showed up last season for his work on TNT with a bleached blond crew cut? Mm-hmm, that’s that dude.

Why would you talk to Doug Collins? Well, why not? He’s been around the NBA forever, even coached in Chicago before. And man, he has such a nice voice when he’s on TNT, and such a calming, soothing demeanor, that you think there’s a chance he’d be a good antidote to Scott Skiles and his nails-on-chalkboard persona. He’d be a safe pick, a guy who would be able to come in and surely at least win 35-40 games and give your franchise a telegenic face. Hell, people LOVE Doug Collins, right? We can’t miss if we hire him.

Then a few nights ago you are watching the end of the Lakers/Spurs Game 4 from San Antonio on TNT. Coming down the stretch, Derek Fisher airballs a jumper that goes out of bounds with 2 seconds left on the shot clock. Immediately, Doug Collins declares that the Spurs need to foul as soon as possible, as he thinks the shot clock has re-set. You look down on the bottom of screen and see a “2,” so you know there’s time left on the shot clock. The Lakers call a timeout to set up an inbounds play, and Collins keeps talking about how the Spurs need to foul. The teams come out and set up for an inbounds play and Collins reminds us that the Spurs have to foul again. The Lakers throw it in and Kobe jacks up a jumper. Seconds later, Collins apologizes and says it was his mistake that he didn’t notice the shot clock hadn’t re-set. OK, but still. This is who you want to hire as your coach?

Then you stumble across what Collins said just a few weeks ago when he was asked if he was interested in coaching the Phoenix Suns.

“… I have no desire to do that. I consider it a compliment when people mention me, but I just love my life now. The work that has to be done and the headaches you have to put up with today, I’m not willing to pay that price. It’s just too tough.

“I get a chance to see my children now and my grandchildren. I’ve probably given up the competitive side of myself, but it’s such a tough ride and tough grind unless you have the [clout] of someone like Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich or Jerry Sloan.”

Hmm. Well, maybe that was just a bad day. After all, you spoke to Collins, and to you he seemed like he was all fired up and ready to get back on the sideline. Was he lying a few weeks earlier? Was he lying to you? Or maybe his entire life philosophy really just turned around that quickly?

Now you’re confused. Then you re-read this old story about Kwame Brown’s rookie year with the Wizards, when his coach was Doug Collins. They were expecting big things from Kwame, but things didn’t work out the way they planned…

[David] Stern wants to know exactly what Jordan and the Wizards expected when they drafted a 19-year-old straight out of high school. “What we’re finding is that a 19-year-old would tend to respond like . . . a 19-year-old,” says Stern. “Who should that surprise?”

At least one person, Collins, is ready to admit that he misjudged Brown’s readiness to enter the league. “It’s not just the education of Kwame Brown,” says Collins wearily. “It was the education of Doug Collins.”

Hmm. So the last time Collins was handed a teenager and asked to make him blossom, that didn’t turn out so well. But then, maybe that was Kwame’s fault, not Doug’s. And at least Beasley and Rose spent a year at college, if not necessarily in college.

Then again, you wonder, what if I think outside the box here? What if I go after a college coach, or even an overseas coach? What about Mark Jackson? Or what if I hire an assistant who’s never been a head coach before? After all, with Collins, you know what you’re going to get. At worst, if I hire an unproven commodity I’ll fire him after one year and be right back where I started a year ago. The flip side, of course, is that maybe an unproven coach will want to work double-time to prove himself, and maybe he’ll have some new, fresh ideas.

But if you sign a coach to a big contract and after one year you have to fire him and eat his money, maybe Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf will decide enough is enough and fire you instead.

Collins it is, then!

When do the Bears kick off again?