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Will Bulls coach Jim Boylen be returning? Situation remains fluid

Depending on the day, the same member of the Bulls organization can have a completely different opinion on whether Boylen will be back as coach. But only the new head of basketball operations, Arturas Karnisovas, will have the final say.

Coach Jim Boylen’s future with the Bulls remains up in the air.
Coach Jim Boylen’s future with the Bulls remains up in the air.
Brandon Dill/AP

It’s still the million-dollar unanswered question floating around this entire Bulls front-office overhaul.

Make that the $1.6 million-and-change question.

That was coach Jim Boylen’s yearly salary when he was given a three-year extension last spring.

Many are wondering if he’ll even be around to fulfill the contract.

It was obvious in November that Gar Forman was on borrowed time as general manager. When news of the front-office restructuring first broke on All-Star Sunday, it was obvious that vice president of basketball operations John Paxson would be headed for a new role.

Those long-anticipated moves became official Monday, when the Bulls announced Arturas Karnisovas as their head of basketball operations.

Paxson will assume an advisory role, and Forman was fired after 22 years.

But Boylen remains the great unknown.

If you talk to individuals associated with the organization lately, they all have a different take on Boylen’s fate. Talk to them on consecutive days, and those guesses can fluctuate.

To call the coaching situation fluid is an understatement.

Team president Michael Reinsdorf has backed Boylen publicly, and according to one source, that support persists. Boylen has that angle working in his favor. But he’s also at a disadvantage.

Reinsdorf and his dad, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, empower their executives to make basketball decisions with little interference. Jerry Reinsdorf does like to put his final stamp on things, but he favors a hands-off approach.

So if Karnisovas wants to move on from Boylen — much like he did with Forman — expect little resistance.

“This is my view of the role ownership should play in sports, and certainly in terms of basketball — the ownership is responsible for hiring the right person to lead the basketball team, then should step to the side and allow the basketball people to do their work,’’ Michael Reinsdorf said recently. “And if we pick the wrong person, it can take years to recover, so we needed to get this right.’’

By all accounts, the Bulls got it right with Karnisovas. Now it’s up to Karnisovas to get it right.

There have been multiple reports that Karnisovas conducted interviews this week with GM candidates, and that process will carry on until at least next week.

Once the NBA decides on what it will do with the rest of the season, Karnisovas then will have to address the coaching situation — staff and all.

If he does pull the plug on Boylen (39-84 record, .317 winning percentage), here are three names to watch:

Kenny Atkinson: The former Nets coach knows rebuilds and player development, and there’s no doubt he will attract interest from several teams this offseason. His name was floated around when he was fired last month, but that was outside speculation rather than anything substantial from inside the Bulls’ organization.

Adrian Griffin: The former Bulls assistant — now an assistant with the Raptors — has been praised by many as being more than ready to lead his own team. His reputation is that of a perfect mix of a players’ coach with a disciplined hand in the way he teaches and mentors. There has been plenty of chatter surrounding him as a Bulls candidate.

Tom Thibodeau: Much like a shark is built to only swim and eat, Thibodeau is a coach who’s built to win games. That’s what he does everywhere he goes. His name was floating around different NBA camps before the coronavirus shutdown, and, by all accounts, he has evolved after his stint with the Timberwolves, let alone his time with the Bulls. Thibodeau would bring instant credibility.