Coach Jim Boylen’s job remains safe in eyes of Bulls front office
Injuries have plagued the rebuild in Year 3, and Boylen will somewhat get a pass because of it. That changes, however, if the team looks non-competitive the rest of the season — healthy or not.
Although the status of an NBA coaching job is always fluid, if the season were to end today — answering the prayers of some Bulls fans — coach Jim Boylen would be safe.
Vice president of basketball operations John Paxson gave Boylen that vote of confidence earlier in the season in conversations with reporters, and on Thursday he reiterated his faith in the job Boylen has been doing while navigating his way through a slew of injuries on the roster.
“It’s always hard for a coach,” Paxson said. “I think you guys have been around Jim enough to know that he’s a very positive guy. He keeps trying to grind it out. One thing I do admire is he doesn’t quit on these guys. He looks at them, and he believes in them.
“Hey, in this league, every team faces injuries. We’re not the only ones. That’s why you have a 15-man roster. But Jim handles it very well. He’s trying to coach these guys and try to get them better.”
That’s not the kind of statement critics of Boylen want to hear right now.
There seems to be very little middle ground when discussing him. When he took over for the fired Fred Hoiberg in early December 2018 — immediately calling out Bulls players for what he considered a lack of toughness and conditioning and then squashing an attempted two-player coup — fans and media quickly formed opinions about the long-time assistant coach. In most cases, those opinions weren’t favorable.
Still, Boylen seemed to be turning things around slowly. The Bulls had a solid showing last February, and when the season ended, it seemed as though he had gotten his players to buy in. He was given a contract extension in the offseason.
But even so, how can a guy be safe when his team is 19-34?
A big reason is that he’s getting the benefit of the doubt. Several years ago, during the notorious power struggle with former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau — the second-winningest coach in franchise history — the front office blamed injuries on Thibodeau’s supposed grinding style. But today, the front office is passing off injuries as simply bad luck, even though the Bulls have suffered more of them under Hoiberg and Boylen than they ever did under Thibodeau.
“He’s trying to do his job the best he can, you know?” guard Zach LaVine said when asked about what Boylen has done with an undermanned roster. “No one’s going to feel sorry for you.”
LaVine noted the team started the season healthy and still stumbled out of the gate.
“Beginning of the year, we lost games and we had everybody, so I don’t know,’’ he said.
Is it possible Boylen’s parachute will suddenly twist up and send him into a freefall? Games like Thursday’s 125-119 loss to the Pelicans, in which the starters looked unprepared and uninspired, don’t help. Non-competitive showings will be his downfall, whether he’s undermanned or not.
Boylen knows that more than anyone.
“I evaluate everything,” he said. “I don’t go home and not think about this or not think about basketball and what we’re trying to do, but I try and keep the positive things and what we have done in the right perspective.
“We’ve got an injured, banged-up young team that battles and fights and competes. Do we have off nights when we don’t play well? Of course. Every team does. My job is to teach and to coach, and I will keep doing that. The people in this room that know me know that. I’m not deterred.”