The Bulls can’t sell fans on a new beginning and then keep coach Jim Boylen

If new basketball-operations boss Arturas Karnisovas wants to avoid taking two steps back when he walks into team headquarters for the first time, he’ll fire the coach.

SHARE The Bulls can’t sell fans on a new beginning and then keep coach Jim Boylen
 Former Bulls coach Jim Boylen has been picked to coach USA Basketball next month in the first window of qualifying for the 2023 Basketball World Cup.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen directs his players during a game against the Pacers last month.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bulls have had a basketball problem for a while, but they’ve had a perception problem for even longer. If Arturas Karnisovas, their new head of basketball operations, doesn’t recognize that truth, the franchise will continue to flounder.

Judging by fan-base anger, the public perception is that the Bulls have a goober for a head coach. Fair or unfair, true or untrue, it doesn’t matter. That’s the perception. Listen to the very, very not nice things that talk-show callers have to say about Jim Boylen or read the nastiness that Bulls fans write about him on social media. If Karnisovas wants to avoid taking two steps back when he walks into team headquarters for the first time, he’ll fire Boylen at his earliest convenience.

The situation is untenable. The Bulls can’t present a new world and keep Boylen. They can’t trumpet change and then vote for more of the same, old thing.

If they do, they might want to stand back. Singed eyebrows are a real possibility.

Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has a long history of digging in when one of his favored employees is under fire. The hope here is that Boylen hasn’t been around long enough to earn one of Reinsdorf’s Kevlar vests. Vice president John Paxson has, which is why, despite losing his job to Karnisovas, he’ll stay on as an advisor to ownership. General manager Gar Forman, who is right up there with Boylen in terms of public scorn, will be an interesting test. Was he enough on Reinsdorf’s good side to remain a Bulls scout? Would fans be OK with Gar/Pax still on board in some capacity? Only if both men are unseen, unheard and under the impression that they’re never to leave their homes.

Attendance has been down this season, and if there’s one thing the chairman understands, it’s the importance of bodies in seats. Bulls fans have packed the United Center for years, even during bad seasons, for reasons that still aren’t entirely clear. The status quo is a lot easier for ownership to embrace when the money continues to roll in.

It doesn’t matter if Boylen has been a good soldier. He brought up his dutifulness often during the season, saying that management had tasked him with developing the young talent on the roster. He apparently took that to mean calling timeouts in the final minute of games the Bulls had no chance of winning. Teaching moments, he called them. The sentiment around the league and in the stands was that he could teach on his own time.

The sole focus on development was also a bit of a copout. Surely wins and losses have to factor somewhere in the equation. If they don’t, why not have every game end in a tie? Self-esteem would be through the roof around the league. If Boylen is going to focus on development instead of victories, he’ll have a hard time explaining to Karnisovas why Lauri Markkanen’s play dropped off so much this season.

But, again, all of this is beside the point. The perception of the Bulls as backward and parochial will change with Karnisovas’ arrival only if Boylen is no longer part of the discussion. The discussion in Chicago, when it hasn’t centered on Gar/Pax, has centered on Boylen’s goofiness. That’s not what you want in a new beginning.

A source has told the Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley that Boylen expects to be the Bulls’ head coach next season. I am both amused and terrified by Boylen’s confidence.

Team president Michael Reinsdorf, Jerry’s son, clearly has seen the need for change in the organization. Karnisovas is expected to be the first of several hires meant to modernize the Bulls’ basketball-operations department. The wise guys and gals among you will ask what the team plans to do with the peach baskets. Use them as planters, of course!

During a period of transformation, the last thing the Bulls should want is the recent past revisited. Their fans have made it clear they don’t want that.

An obvious question is who should be Boylen’s replacement. There (hopefully) will be plenty of time for that. For now, let’s enjoy the possibility of a new day.

When it became clear that the Bulls were going to hire someone to oversee basketball operations, pushing aside Paxson, there was celebration among fans on social media. A good amount of the revelry was reserved for the expected ouster of Boylen. Fans were sure it meant the end of his short, painful reign as coach.

If it is, there will be virtual hugs and high-fives from Bulls faithful who are social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak. But if it isn’t the end for Boylen in Chicago, the perception will be that nothing has changed. Is that really how the new man wants his career here to begin?

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