Maybe it's time for a change, but Boylen not to blame for Bulls' misery

  • Will new Bulls VP of basketball operartions Arturas Karnisovas hire a new head coach before next season or take his time evaluating Jim Boylen? There's really no hurry.

    Will new Bulls VP of basketball operartions Arturas Karnisovas hire a new head coach before next season or take his time evaluating Jim Boylen? There's really no hurry. Associated Press

Updated 5/12/2020 7:21 PM

Last in a series evaluating Bulls players and head coach

At the risk of being unpopular, this column will suggest the Bulls bringing back head coach Jim Boylen next season is a reasonable course of action.


The logic is fairly straightforward. Boylen wasn't the reason the Bulls had a disappointing season. This was a roster issue, with too many young players and pieces that didn't fit together. Young teams with no winning experience have no chance in the NBA.

Actually, this team might have had one chance. If Otto Porter delivered the best season of his career, averaged maybe 20 points and stayed healthy, then the Bulls might have been able to contend for the No. 8 seed in the East.

That didn't happen, obviously. And retooling the roster this summer won't be easy, thanks to some bad contracts and questionable trade bait. The best course of action might be to ride it out, let the contracts of Porter and Cristiano Felicio expire so the Bulls will have some cap room to work with in 2021.

Would bringing in a new coach set the Bulls on the right path or set up a new coach to fail? The current group isn't on the fast track to title contention no matter who's on the bench.

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New Bulls vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas should have the authority to do what he thinks is necessary to improve the team. But it's not clear if Michael Reinsdorf has given Karnisovas a blank check to do whatever he wants this summer. The Bulls did some heavy spending to rebuild the front office and NBA revenues will plummet due to the suspended season.

It's hard to predict what's going to happen. Maybe Karnisovas has a new coach in mind and would like to act now while that candidate is available. If the Bulls seek a new hire, a couple of names that come to mind are former Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson or Toronto assistant Adrian Griffin, Karnisovas' teammate at Seton Hall.

But if Karnisovas and the new management team plan to do a thorough evaluation before making changes, then it makes sense to include the coaching staff. Boylen has been on the job for 123 games and just made additions to his staff last summer, landing Chris Fleming from Brooklyn and Roy Rogers from Houston.

So what is the evaluation on Boylen? For starters, he should be judged on things that actually matter, not calling timeouts in the final minute of games.


Boylen's biggest mistake might have been mentioning the word playoffs at the start of training camp. Going from 22 to 40 wins is a pretty massive jump and the Bulls didn't add any superstars last year.

Another thing that didn't work well was a radical change to the offense. Boylen and his new assistants installed the Houston Rockets' philosophy of layups or 3-point shots and very little in between. They called it the math of winning basketball, but it didn't work so well when the Bulls ranked 24th in the league in 3-point percentage at .348.

Players like Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Coby White, who were used to using the midrange jumper to get themselves going, seemed to struggle with the offensive plan early in the season.

The positives? Well, on Jan. 6 when center Wendell Carter Jr. went down with an ankle injury, the Bulls ranked No. 6 in the league in defensive rating. That's not a bad achievement with this group of players.

Player development went reasonably well. LaVine posted the best numbers of his career. Carter was playing well until the ankle injury. Boylen did a nice job of bringing White along slowly and not giving him more than he was ready to handle. It seemed pay off when White delivered an impressive run in the final nine games.

Markkanen was the biggest disappointment. He didn't respond well to the new offense, but he was also working through some injuries last season, so it's hard to say Boylen was the reason Markkanen took a backward step.

Boylen is a first-time head coach who is learning on the job. Karnisovas will hire his own coach at some point, but there's no need to get hung up on an immediate change. The Bulls have a long way to go.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls


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