- Nick Friedell, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- John Paxson has a simple message for free agents as the Chicago Bulls get set to make their recruiting pitches to prospective free agents in the coming days. The Bulls' executive vice president believes that the game's top players want to hear the same thing.
"I think the biggest thing is how much do guys want to win?" Paxson said Friday on "The Waddle & Silvy Show" on ESPN 1000. "The fact that we've not had our best player for the last couple of years, and I know there's still questions about Derrick [Rose] because he hasn't played in two years, but the fact that we have not had our best player -- but prior to that we were in the Eastern Conference finals -- and we have certain players like Joakim Noah who have matured and improved as a first team All-NBA player now -- if the goal is to be with a team, to be a part of a team that is about winning, and in a culture that we feel strongly about is about winning -- then I think players want to be in that situation, I really do. And that's what we're about."
Paxson believes the winning culture that has been created during the past four seasons under coach Tom Thibodeau is going to be one of the franchise's most important keys as it gets set to talk to some of the game's top players. The free-agency period begins at 12:01 a.m. ET on July 1 and the Bulls are expected to be heavily involved, particularly in their pursuit of New York Knicks All-Star Carmelo Anthony.
"We have a coach who is very, very passionate about winning," Paxson said.
"We have an owner who's passionate about winning. I know Jerry [Reinsdorf] and [team president and C.O.O.] Mike [Reinsdorf] want to get back to that level. So I think that's the big thing and you can say anything you want outside of that -- we love Chicago and the city will sell itself, all those things -- but I think at the end of the day it comes down to where do you think you can win a championship.
"Even though we had setbacks with injuries to Derrick and those type of things, [general manager] Gar [Forman] and I talk about this a lot, we still believe we have very, very good players. And we believe that we've set up a culture that is about winning. Maybe we are a player or two from being the type of team that's there every year, and that's where we're trying to get to."
Aside from the winning culture, Paxson referenced the new Bulls practice facility, which is located across the street from the United Center near downtown Chicago, as an interesting wrinkle to sell to players. In the end, Paxson knows that the Bulls' success in luring players to Chicago will depend on how they respond to the message. The Bulls' front office is hopeful that Rose's recent injury problems will not hamper that pitch in any way.
"At the end of the day, the most important thing is if you can show [prospective free agents] your vision on how you're going to win," Paxson said. "And how you believe that can have some staying power, and that's our goal. I think if you do that and they say, 'That's what I want to be a part of,' then they'll be a part of it. If they don't, then you move on and you try to find another avenue to make that thing happen. So we're going to put our best foot forward. We think we have a lot to offer and we'll see how that goes."
The Bulls remain optimistic that they will be able to land the type of player they couldn't get to sign on the dotted line in the summer of 2010. The Bulls made a strong push to sign LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh, but ended up missing out on all three and settled for Carlos Boozer.
Paxson acknowledged that Jerry Reinsdorf has given the front office the green light to spend how it sees fit. Whether that means diving deep into the luxury tax or using the amnesty clause to wipe away the final year of Boozer's deal, Paxson made it clear that Reinsdorf was "all-in" on the plan to get the Bulls back to the top.
To validate that point, he referenced a story from Thursday night's draft, in which the Bulls selected New Mexico big man Cameron Bairstow with the 49th overall pick.
"We're getting calls leading up to that pick with teams offering us a ton of cash," Paxson said. "For people that sit there and say that the Bulls always make decisions based on money -- we never even considered taking a deal like that last night. And Jerry's sitting there in the room -- because we were looking at a player that we think can maybe play a role for us down the road. And we sat there and bypassed [the offers].
"I talked to somebody last night from another team and he said, 'I got to tell you, there are not many owners that when they heard those dollar figures would have said, 'No, I'm not going to take that kind of money.' Jerry has been over the years ... Is he smart about his money? You bet. But ... he's in. He wants us to [succeed]. He always wants us to spend the money efficiently. But he's in, he wants us to use the resources that we have."
CHICAGO -- John Paxson has a simple message for free agents as the Chicago Bulls get set to make their recruiting pitches to prospective free agents in the coming days.