Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks

Tale of the tape: Is the Knicks or Bulls front office job more desirable?

Suddenly we have two of the biggest front office posts in the NBA open at the same time, which means we have to ask the question: Would you rather take the Bulls job or the Knicks job?

This week, news broke that the Chicago Bulls would move forward with their plans to pry the general manager job out of the grasp of Gar Forman, who’s had the job since 2009. They will reportedly work with Forman to find a new position within the organization, while John Paxson, who joined the front office in 2003 and had been president since 2009, will maintain a vague “senior advisor” job. That put the Bulls in a tight race with the New York Knicks to get out ahead of the general manager market while the NBA awaits news on the fate of the 2019-20 season.

While Forman and Paxson (erstwhile “GarPax”) will leave the Bulls’ top job open for the first time in over a decade, Steve Mills had been executive vice president and general manager of the Knicks since 2013 before being fired earlier this spring. It’s been a while. Both bring the sheen of big markets and glamour franchises, but which job is truly better? Let’s figure that out.

The job itself

First, a bit of clarity: Technically, former CAA agent Leon Rose is the lead decision-maker for the Knicks. On March 2, Rose was hired to become president, replacing Mills, though part of that early move by Knicks owner James Dolan was designed to give Rose the chance to fill out the front office and decide on the long-term answer at head coach.

Whoever Rose hires as general manager will run the day-to-day operations, as the language surrounding his search for front office depth has indicated he is aggressively searching for smart basketball operations people to run the team. At the time he was hired, many believed Rose would be tasked with improving the Knicks’ standing in the NBA as much as improving the on-court product. Perhaps Rose is seeking out proven executives (such as Sixers GM Elton Brand) to give them full autonomy while he governs from 30,000 feet.

On the Bulls’ side, the opportunity is bigger, undoubtedly. K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago reported that “whoever the Bulls hire will have full autonomy for basketball operations and will play a role in how the front office is structured, a source said. Ensuing hires and how the scouting department is shaped will in part be determined by the hire to lead basketball operations.”

The best franchises in the NBA put smart people in place at all levels of the organization and let them go to work. We don’t yet know how Rose will operate, and the presence of Dolan always looms like a dark cloud over the Knicks, while Chicago seems determined to get the most out of its hire.

Advantage: Chicago

The basketball situation

Quietly, both franchises have put together the beginnings of a solid rebuild. Both are defined by chaos and mismanagement, but the players and assets are firmly in the second tier among other young teams.

If we’re grading young prospects through a five-star system like we do when they come out of high school, the Bulls have three three-star players in Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Coby White. Each player’s career took a drastically different turn this season.

Markkanen regressed and recently, Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the third-year big man is “unhappy enough that if the direction of the organization was going to stay unchanged, he’d rather be elsewhere.” Carter has suffered massively with injuries in his first two seasons, playing just 87 games. The Al Horford comparisons are not unfounded, but he needs to stay on the court and build out his offensive game. Most promisingly, White blew up after the All-Star Game, scoring nearly 25 points a night on a 59.7 true shooting percentage. Having just turned 20, White may be the best asset on the team now.

Chicago is unlikely to have much cap space this summer, but has basically all its picks going forward. The Knicks could have as much as $58 million in space and have two first-round picks in each of the next two drafts.

New York’s players are perhaps not as promising, but RJ Barrett had a solid rookie season with interesting flashes as a finisher and playmaker. Mitchell Robinson could become one of the top defensive centers in the league in time. Some still hold out hope for Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina. The cap space and volume of young talent tilts toward the Knicks.

Advantage: New York

Ownership

What else is there to say about Dolan? The man is involved in a legal battle with a former franchise great and kicked critical fans out of the stadium multiple times this season. Less than a year ago, he missed out on Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving when they wanted nothing more than to find a way to become Knicks.

Out in the midwest, Bulls COO Michael Reinsdorf is seemingly wresting more control of the franchise away from his father, Jerry, the 84-year-old owner. Jerry is known for being loyal and married to the franchise’s storied past. It’s hard to tell how Michael’s tenure will be different, though the very act of leading this hiring process is a good start.

Advantage: Chicago, but the bar is low.

Head coaches

Both executives who are hired will have a big choice at head coach. NBC Sports Chicago’s Johnson reported that Reinsdorf prefers an executive who is open to retaining Jim Boylen, the man who inflamed Markkanen and was a weekly lock for embarrassing and outrageous news stories. Even back when he was hired in 2018, Boylen was a massive surprise, then a shock in Chicago and across the league even further when he was locked in long-term after the 2018-19 season.

In the Big Apple, interim head coach Mike Miller was praised for getting his team to buckle down on defense and slowly moving away from the isolation-heavy offense that hurt the team in the fall. It seems like an adult-in-the-room situation, a great sign considering Rose’s way of doing business and the Knicks’ need to move on from the childishness of the past.

Advantage: New York, but it’s wide open.

Candidates

This is a bit of a roundabout question, considering we are looking at the appeal of each job for the candidates in question. The candidates themselves should be irrelevant. However, who the teams are looking at tells us a bit about how seriously each team is taking things.

The Knicks’ interest in Brand reportedly comes from Rose’s familiarity with the Philadelphia front office from Rose’s prior role as Joel Embiid’s agent. According to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, Rose also has been approved by the Cavaliers to interview salary cap specialist Brock Aller.

Reinsdorf has zeroed in on the usual suspects from around the NBA, including Arturas Karnisovas (interviewed with Milwaukee and Brooklyn in the past) and Justin Zanik (served as an interim GM in Milwaukee and interviewed with the Sixers) in addition to Indiana’s Chad Buchanan and Toronto’s Bobby Webster, both of whom declined interview requests. That could be seen as promising or not creative enough, depending on your view.

Advantage: Tie. Both are looking at reasonable candidates and seem to be looking across the whole league for a promising executive.

The decision

To be honest, most young executives will take either position. It’s the Knicks! And the Bulls! This little exercise showed two wins for New York, two for Chicago and one tie. That means I get to split the difference.

By the estimation of most longtime basketball people, ownership is the biggest factor of all. That means Dolan, unfortunately for Knicks fans, will still knock New York down a bit in any head-to-head comparison.

Winner: Chicago. Running the whole basketball department under a new owner in the nation’s third-biggest city is a life-changing NBA opportunity.

Next: NBA Mock Draft 3.0

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