As expected, the Bulls have given head coach Jim Boylen a contract extension.
As expected, Chicago is asking what this has to do with Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Interest in the Bulls is low, even by the standards of bad Bulls teams of the recent past, and it’s fair to say that Boylen’s multiyear extension last week didn’t cause a spike in season-ticket sales.
The only thing that matters, though, is whether the man can coach. I have no earthly idea if he can, and it’s hard to see how anyone would know, given his 58 games as the Bulls’ leader. He seems earnest enough. He talks about the importance of playing hard, which is code for “that’s why Fred Hoiberg and his sport coats aren’t here anymore.’’ The players say they like him, but the next time a professional athlete says publicly that he doesn’t like a coach will be the first.
That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement for Boylen, but as I think about it, perhaps he’s perfect for the current situation. A man we’re not sure can coach is charged with shepherding players we’re not sure can play.
But the stakes get raised with the May 14 NBA draft lottery. If the Bulls pull off an upset and win the Zion Williamson sweepstakes, all eyes will immediately turn to Boylen. Is he capable of coaching a transcendent talent? Is he worthy of it? Can he make the kid better? Can he speed up Williamson’s development enough to turn the Bulls into NBA title contenders before the man-child becomes a free agent? The whole drill sergeant thing – he’s not going to reprise that act with the former Duke star, right?
At best, the answer to all of it is a raised eyebrow. No one can know, especially if we go by last season. Boylen gets a high grade for communication. He’s excellent at putting an arm around a player and having a talk. He gives heartfelt answers to reporters’ questions, no matter the topic. Ask him about running the double drag and you get “Hamlet.’’ But the rest of his report card is a bunch of incompletes, thanks to too many injuries.
There’s nothing inspirational about the Bulls’ decision to extend Boylen’s contract. Team vice president John Paxson surely has given up on trying to win public opinion. Public opinion has wanted to do unspeakable things to him for about a decade. So if Bulls fans were hoping for a big-name, big-ticket coaching hire, good one!
Paxson falls out of love with coaches after the first date, so whatever guarantees there might be in Boylen’s contract, I guarantee a clause for requited love doesn’t exist. With history as a guide, there’s a good chance Bulls fans will be shooting 50 percent from the floor in a year or two. Boylen probably will be gone, and Paxson won’t.
The extension seems to say more about the need for continuity than it does about Boylen’s abilities. Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t like a coaching carousel. More than that, he doesn’t like paying former coaches while he’s paying the current one. So whatever Boylen has going for him, that has to rank right up there.
None of this matters to him. He has the job. The basketball lifer has several years of relative security after a career of little security. And he has a chance to pull together all the materials of the Bulls’ rebuild and shape it into a winner. For this to work, he has to keep Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. healthy. And that’s just for starters. He also has to hope that his young players can, you know, play. Where certainty once strutted around, doubt has crept in. What if Markkanen isn’t a future All-Star? What if LaVine is nothing more than a slasher looking for his points?
But that will sort itself out. So will the questions of whether Boylen can coach. There’s no fooling people in the NBA. The truth eventually emerges.
“The organization is confident in the direction that he is taking our players, and we are committed to him,’’ Paxson said in a statement.
Fewer people care about the Bulls these days. Their TV ratings last season dropped precipitously from the season before. The consecutive sellout streak at the United Center is long gone.
Ah, but the Bulls say Boylen has established a culture. Everybody has a culture these days, yet the same number of teams win and the same number of teams lose. Culture is great. Talent is better.
If the Bulls have great players, Boylen has a chance of being a great coach. See Jackson, Phil. Until then, we’ll just have to go with what we’ve seen: not much. That, of course, led to a contract extension.
On another topic, how about those Bears?