Some might call it a coaching search, but John Paxson plans to spend the next few weeks collecting thoughts and opinions on how to revive the disappointing Bulls.
As expected, the Bulls' general manager relieved interim head coach Jim Boylan of his duties Thursday morning. Boylan took over for Scott Skiles on Dec. 27 and posted a 24-32 record while dealing with unhappy, sometimes unruly, players as well as a rash of injuries to his top scorers.
"It's hard to put it in a nutshell, but I do think we need a new type of vibe with our team, a different kind of energy," Paxson said. "It really just came down to the fact that I think we need the opportunity to look at things differently from a coaching standpoint."
Paxson says he has no timetable and no preconceived candidate for the job. When he addressed the media at the Berto Center, Paxson made it sound as though he'll accept the best sales pitch.
The process could take some time, since some of the likely candidates are working for teams that should go deep into the playoffs.
"I'm not going into this thing, 'I've got to have this kind of person,' I can tell you that," Paxson said. "I'm going into it open-minded and with the belief that I'm going to try to find someone that I think can connect with our organization, resonate with our fans and be the right guy that can get us back on the winning track.
"Contrary to what has been written, I don't have any one person in mind that I want to go after to get this job. I'm not going to worry about a timetable. I'm not going to worry about anyone getting hired in the meantime.
"I'm going to do as thorough a search as I can to find someone that I think will fit the organization and give us direction going forward. I think we need some real leadership from that position."
The Bulls' list of candidates is believed to include former NBA head coaches Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Carlisle, Terry Porter, Mike Fratello and Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau.
Porter could be a fit for the Bulls, since he's a former player who got his feet wet during two seasons in Milwaukee, then spent the past two years as an assistant to Flip Saunders with Detroit. Without a superstar on the roster, the Bulls need to follow the Pistons' team-oriented blueprint for success.
A source close to Van Gundy believes the former Knicks and Rockets coach will have interest in the Bulls' job. Thibodeau is a longtime Van Gundy assistant who helped turn Boston into the league's best defensive team this year.
Dallas coach Avery Johnson will be a candidate if he's let go by the Mavericks, as some have predicted.
The Bulls also might look at Mark Jackson, the well-traveled point guard, but he has no coaching experience. Scottie Pippen lobbied to become head coach last year, and Bulls management suggested he get some experience first, either as an NBA assistant or in college, the way Reggie Theus did before becoming head coach in Sacramento.
Paxson did not rule out pursuing a college coach, but it's not a likely scenario.
A defensive philosophy will be important to Paxson. The Bulls were among the leaders in defensive field-goal percentage during their three playoff years.
"This year, our defensive identity was lost right off the bat," he said. "That component has to be there. You're going to see teams in the playoffs that can score and all that. But probably the teams that are left standing have at least a mind-set of guarding and take pride on that end of the floor. We certainly didn't look like that this year. We didn't look like we had any pride."
This season was a disaster from the start. The Bulls started 2-10, fired Skiles, and traded high-priced center Ben Wallace to Cleveland on Feb. 21 before finishing 33-49 and missing the playoffs for the first time in four years.
"For the last few years, we were a team that everyone around the league said, 'Hey, the Bulls come ready to play every night. They compete, they defend, they get after you, they're not going to give up in any game,'Ã¦" Paxson said. "And that went away. It went away quickly. I told the guys that (Wednesday) night. Somewhere along the line this year, we lost our spirit."
Breaking down the coaching possibilities
Our Bulls expert, Mike McGraw, says a certain amount of logic must be applied to the Bulls' coaching search. They do not have anything resembling a superstar and don't figure to get one this summer, so they need to succeed with defense and a team concept. The next coach should bring discipline and a proven track record. NBA playing experience is a plus but not a requirement. These candidates are on the Bulls' shopping list, according to league sources, but there is no front-runner yet:
Jeff Van Gundy
Age: 46. Experience: Head coach in New York and Houston. Career record: 430-318; 44-44 in playoffs.
Plus side: Teams made playoffs nine times in his 11 seasons as a head coach and usually ranked high in all defensive categories. Led Knicks to 1999 NBA Finals. Owns a strong sense of humor.
Down side: Never won a playoff series during four years in Houston. No NBA playing experience.
Age: 48. Experience: Head coach in Detroit and Indiana. Career record: 281-211; 29-32 in playoffs.
Plus side: Took both the Pistons and Pacers to the conference finals. Won 61 games with Indiana in 2003-04.
Down side: Wore out his welcome quickly in Detroit after two winning seasons. Pacers got worse every year he was there. Has a reputation as a poor communicator.
Age: 44. Experience: Head coach in Milwaukee. Career record: 71-93; 1-4 in playoffs.
Plus side: Has head-coaching experience and spent the past two seasons as an assistant in Detroit. Known as a smart, hard-nosed player whose teams won frequently.
Down side: Didn't last long with Bucks, but the decline coincided with injury to point guard T.J. Ford.
Age: 48. Experience: 18 years as an NBA assistant.
Plus side: Built a reputation as one of the league's best defensive specialists, which was proved again when he helped turn the Celtics into the league's top defensive team this season. Spent most of his career working with Jeff Van Gundy in New York and Houston. He's also been an assistant for Bill Musselman, Jerry Tarkanian and John Lucas.
Down side: Only head-coaching experience is one season at Salem State College, his alma mater. No pro playing experience. Figures to be busy in his current job until June.
Age: 61. Experience: Head coach in Atlanta, Cleveland and Memphis. Career record: 667-548; 20-42 in playoffs.
Plus side: Veteran coach with a proven track record. Had success with three teams and made 11 trips to playoffs.
Down side: Never been past second round of the playoffs and has lost the last seven playoff series he's coached.
Age: 43. Experience: none.
Plus side: Heady former point guard was often mentioned as coaching material during his long playing career.
Down side: No coaching experience whatsoever. It would look bad if the Bulls dismissed Scottie Pippen's coaching aspirations, then hired a former Knick with no experience.