Head coach Jim Boylen took over for the Bulls in the middle of last season and almost immediately alienated the team. Despite this, Chicago’s former dynasty kept Boylen on board this season, and wouldn’t they know it? Frustrations are mounting again.
With the season heading into its last two months, the Bulls are no closer to a playoff berth. The team and fans alike are ready for a change.
Jim Boylen’s rocky start with the Bulls
Despite occasional good seasons, the Bulls have struggled to find prolonged success since Derrick Rose went down with an injury and the rest of Chicago’s core left or found themselves hobbled. Fred Hoiberg was supposed to bring some of the success he had in college as a coach, but this never transpired.
The team fired Hoiberg in 2018 after the team when 5-19 to start the season. This is the point in any season where teams can often know if a turnaround is near. In the Bulls case, they kept losing — with an added layer of tension between Chicago’s players and its new coach.
Boylen has a reputation as a hard-nosed coach who holds long and tedious practices. Within just a few days of taking over, his two-and-a-half-hour practices, including some back-to-backs, caused the team to stage a near-mutiny if something didn’t change.
After a 56-point loss to the Boston Celtics, the Bulls were fed up with Boylen. Many even wondered if another coaching change was in order. But Boylen talked his way out of the drama. While his departure at the season’s end was presumed by many, he returned for 2019-20.
The Chicago Bulls this season
The Bulls stand at 20-39 after 59 games. While there hasn’t been another near-mutiny, things haven’t been smooth sailing. Early on, Bulls star Zach LaVine butted heads with Boylen. LaVine was part of last year’s team, and his feelings didn’t go away in the offseason.
During an early-season game, Boylen pulled LaVine out of the game and told the media this was because the player made multiple defensive mistakes. Upon hearing what his coach publicly said, LaVine sounded off on his own. The 24-year-old felt like Boylen had it out for him and singled him out for mistakes that everyone made.
Lavine does have a habit of slacking off on defense. But the Boylen system isn’t known for inspiring guys to go all out. In the early moments of a game, several players are bound to play more loosely than they will as it goes on. These early problems subsided, but Boylen’s relationship with his team does not seem better entering the last part of the season.
Are the Bulls done with Boylen?
Boylen prides himself on being a hard-nosed coach. Leaders who push players aren’t necessarily villains.
Gregg Popovich has a notoriously short fuse, but many players adore him and his results speak for themselves. Similarly, Nuggets coach Mike Malone is not afraid to get under his players’ skin and scream in the heat of the moment. Those coaches win, however, and garner respect through their actions.
Boylen, on the other hand, can come across as petulant and needlessly dramatic. Recently, during a losing streak, the 54-year-old began calling late timeouts when the Bulls had no chance. While Boylen claims these simply showed the players there’s still a game left to play, his team was perturbed. Zach LaVine got especially animated during one timeout, with the Bulls down 10 against the Phoenix Suns.
Many see Boylen’s behavior as theatrical and petty. He seems to relish in humiliating his players under the guise of building them up. The Chicago Sun-Times points out as much. Boylen may talk about how much he cares about the guys. As far as building relationships with them, however, he’s failed.
Even if he turns it around now, it still might be too late. Boylen has done nothing to build a bridge between himself and the players. Perhaps, a change of scenery or a return to the college ranks is what Boylen needs to reinvigorate his career, although even his history there is less-than-flattering.
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