There was a moment there when you thought Jim Boylen was going to remain the Bulls coach, wasn’t there? And when I say “a moment,’’ I mean a few months that felt like a lifetime.
Why the organization tortured us and Boylen for so long is one of the great mysteries of our time, but the important thing is that, in the end, it did the right thing. The Bulls announced Friday morning that they were parting company with their punch line of a head coach.
The search begins for a replacement, and new Bulls vice president Arturas Karnisovas will be looking for someone who can get players’ attention and earn their respect. It would help if Karnisovas could find players capable of winning games.
But Friday’s decision was all about the failings of a head coach who might have worked in the NBA but was out of his league.
First impressions are important, and Boylen, in trying to establish that his was going to be a tight ship, made one that he could never shake. He set about letting people know there was a new sheriff in town after replacing Fred Hoiberg, who would have been loungewear if he had been any more low-key. This sheriff had players doing wind sprints and pushups the first week. Wind sprints and pushups to an NBA player are like inflatable water wings and nose plugs to an Olympic swimmer. It might seem simplistic to say that Boylen’s reputation never recovered, but simple happens to work. He was a laughingstock league-wide that first week, and tee-hees followed him around the rest of his tenure.
His habit of calling late timeouts in games that were well out of reach for the Bulls frustrated fans, players, opposing teams, broadcasters and possibly the Dalai Lama. He stubbornly said he was tasked with teaching his young players whenever a teachable moment arose. We screamed for him to teach them on his own time.
Arturas Karnisovas: "The signal to the fanbase is that we're changing things. It signals that we're looking forward to what's coming next. We felt this program needed change, and needed change now. I can't wait to find the next coach for this group."— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) August 14, 2020
There had been no need for the Bulls to keep Boylen hanging like this. None. The team wasn’t playing games because it hadn’t been good enough to make the NBA’s bubble-rama. There was nothing more to know about Boylen that wasn’t already known. Per team president Michael Reinsdorf’s instructions, Karnisovas was giving the coach’s fate his full attention, but with no basketball and more than enough evidence to go on, this shouldn’t have gone on for so long. Fans were left with the dread that the organization might do the unthinkable, and Boylen was left up in the air.
And, really, what else was there to think? The team hasn’t gotten much right since Michael Jordan left town, and it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that Boylen had ingratiated himself with an owner who doesn’t like the media telling him what to do.
But there was no getting around the fact that Boylen had become the perfect prow for the USS Goofy. Fair or not, he was the target for much of the criticism surrounding the team. Attendance at the United Center fell. It couldn’t go on like this, not if the Bulls were serious about turning things around. When the Reindsdorfs broke up Gar/Pax this season and brought in Karnisovas, it looked like the end for Boylen. The end just took a lot longer than it should have.
Bulls players wanted their voices heard in whether or not Boylen would remain in the job, but the people who had a lot to do with his 39-84 record didn’t deserve to have a voice in what was for breakfast, let alone in who was in charge.
Now it will be someone else’s turn to figure out why Lauri Markkanen hasn’t progressed. Maybe that someone will be 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, whose stock is high around the NBA. Whoever it is will have to figure out all the things that are wrong with this team. The simple answer right now is that it was all Boylen’s fault. It wasn’t. But he sure made it easy to blame him.
“The signal to the fanbase is that we’re changing things,’’ Karnisovas said. “It signals that we’re looking forward to what’s coming next. We felt this program needed change, and needed change now. I can’t wait to find the next coach for this group.”
The fanbase can’t wait, either. It waited much too long for the Bulls to pull the plug on Boylen. Time for them to do something right. Their fans, the ones still hanging in there, are watching.