Note: This originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune on June 29, 2007
His desire to do the same as Bulls general manager led him down a familiar path Thursday night.
In each of his four NBA drafts with picks, Paxson has selected a player from an NCAA Final Four participant. With this year's ninth overall selection, he added two-time NCAA tournament champion Joakim Noah to a draft resume that includes Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng and Tyrus Thomas.
Two years and three months after Eddy Curry's irregular heartbeat irrevocably changed the direction of the franchise, the Bulls closed the book on the Curry trade by adding Noah, the high-energy if offensively challenged 7-footer from Florida, to last year's acquisition of Thomas.
Noah, looking either resplendent or clownish in a seersucker suit and long, flowing hair, barely could contain his excitement.
"It's a great group," said Noah, the son of 1983 French Open champion Yannick. "I've been a fan of a lot of those guys. Ben Wallace. I get to play with Ben Wallace. That's awesome. I'm a big fan of Luol Deng and Ben Gordon and Kirk [Hinrich]. It's a great situation, a team that's going to win a lot of games. I can't wait to be a part of it."
Later in the evening, the Bulls closed the book on last summer's J.R. Smith trade, adding Pittsburgh center Aaron Gray and Oklahoma State guard JamesOn Curry. Paxson said expectations are high for Curry.
The Bulls did their due diligence and debated the lottery pick to the last minute.
As recently as last weekend, they had a secret workout with Kansas forward Julian Wright, who had refused to work out individually for most teams and went to New Orleans at No. 13.
As for the moment of truth, the Bulls' dream scenario occurred. Both Noah and Washington freshman Spencer Hawes were on the board. Upstairs at the Berto Center, a healthy debate emerged over whether to add the project scorer in Hawes or the proven winner and energy guy in Noah.
The Paxson profile won out.
"Joakim is a proven winner," Paxson said. "We felt he fits what we're trying to do. He gets up and down the floor. He can rebound. He can score around the basket. He's an active, energy player. In our minds, he was the readiest of the guys to come in and play. We're a team trying to win right now. That was one of the factors.
"Spencer Hawes has unique skills offensively. But this is still a game that is played 94 feet up and down reacting to things, being able to play at a fast pace. We've been trying to address our athleticism. We added athleticism and length last year with Tyrus and Thabo [Sefolosha]. We added more [Thursday]."
Noah, who measured 7 feet with shoes at the Orlando pre-draft camp and weighed 223 pounds, averaged 10.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while shooting 61.2 percent in his three seasons with the Gators.
He tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder during the NCAA tournament and has played through pain during pre-draft workouts. The Bulls may hold him out of summer-league action as they take a conservative approach with the injury, which they don't believe is a long-term concern.
Noah, who worked out against Hawes at the Berto Center on June 8, has heard the criticisms about his offense, which features -- putting it mildly -- an unorthodox jumper.
"I definitely have to improve my offensive game," Noah said. "But I'm looking forward to the challenge. I hope I can affect winning."
Paxson discounted the concerns about Noah's offensive skills, pointing to the developmental system the Bulls have in place and adding another gym rat with a wingspan that measured 7 feet 1 1/4 inches.
"He's more skilled than you think," Paxson said. "He can pass the ball. He can handle it. He has real good instincts. And his size is a major plus for us."
Noah said the size of his heart also matters.
"Hating to lose means you want to work hard and you want to improve," he said. "I think that's more important than skills actually because I think there are players who are better than me that I get the best of because I hate to lose."
Noah grew up a Knicks fan mere blocks from where he sat anxiously at Madison Square Garden waiting for his name to be called. His worldly background and comfort level with being in the spotlight also was said to impress the Bulls.
"We have a very good group of guys, but they're on the quiet side," coach Scott Skiles said. "Adding a guy like that is the opposite of that to the mix is appealing because it brings a different energy for us."
Now comes free agency and a summer trade season that could be spectacular around the league.
"We know we need a low-post scorer in some capacity," Paxson said. "It's a piece-by-piece process. I think we added one of the best players in this draft at the ninth pick. He's a very demonstrative player who is going to bring it every night. And that's what we're looking for."