Since firing Fred Hoiberg and promoting Jim Boylen to interim head coach, the Bulls have been a disaster. Their record is 5–14 under him and they have constantly made the worst kind of headlines. They have become the laughingstock of the NBA. Naturally, the Bulls increased Boylen’s salary for this season and the next in response, though they did leave themselves with the flexibility to make a coaching change in the offseason. So what has Boylen done to earn his salary increase? Let’s run through what Boylen has done with the Bulls.
Boylen took issue with the team’s conditioning soon after being hired. He told Mike McGraw of the Chicago Daily Herald, “I’m really disappointed in our conditioning. That’s going to change.” To rectify conditioning, he started his tenure by running the team through multiple grueling two-hour long practices, complete with suicides and other conditioning drills, per Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago.
Boylen said, ”We’re old-school, we get on the line. Then we have certain drills we do within the line for that. But there’s no short-cut to conditioning. There’s no short cut to getting in shape. People think there is I think sometimes, or you can do this or you can do that. The only way you get in shape in this game is to get on the floor and do it. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it every day,” again per Strotman.
Many NBA teams do not practice very often during the regular season, including the San Antonio Spurs. Interestingly, Boylen has said he models his coaching after Greg Popovich. NBA teams do not practice so they can preserve their bodies. The season is exhausting, with 82 games packed into six months and a lot of travel involved. When I ran cross country in high school, we did not have hard practices the day after meets. We had hard practices on days where there would be plenty of time to recover before and after the practice. In an NBA season, there are not a lot of days that are available to practice. But Boylen found a way, and even had one of his notoriously hard practices the day after a game.
In Boylen’s third game as head coach, the Bulls lost by a franchise-record 56 points to the Boston Celtics. During this game he pulled the entire starting lineup early after they fell into a hole, and then again at the beginning of the third quarter, this time after the Celtics had only gone on a 5–3 run. This upset some of the players.
In response, Boylen said ”I think your play is embarrassing, me subbing them is saving them, maybe. Maybe we saved them.” To be fair to Boylen, the Bulls did get smoked, and certainly did not play well. But it’s easy to see why there is a divide between the coach and his players after hearing him make comments like that to the media.
Boylen reportedly pulled the starters so that the Bulls could have another hard practice the next day, saying, “I play them more, we lose [Saturday], and then we can’t practice [Sunday]. We double lose, and we don’t have time to do that.’’ But the practice did not happen. They did “double lose.” A veteran player on the team told players not to show up at practice through a group text. After another player alerted Boylen, he refused to cancel practice. Eventually, the team did agree to show up, but refused to practice, and instead held meetings to clear the air.
The Bulls’ players also contacted the Players’ Association with a complaint about Boylen’s tactics, per Yahoo’s Vincent Goodwill. Boylen claimed that he never intended to actually run the players through a hard practice, and said, “Our meeting is what I thought we needed.”
But after running the players through marathon practice sessions all week and pulling them early in the game, I do not believe him. This news led to the Bulls dominating NBA headlines all week, rare for such a bad team. It also led to mockery from other teams.
Soon after, Boylen benched Jabari Parker. Parker has played a total of 37 minutes since December 13. To some degree, this makes sense. Parker had not been playing particularly well. But at the same time, Parker is a talented player who could potentially have some trade value. He is also, for all of his struggles, a good source of offense that could help a Bulls bench that greatly struggles to score.
One of the possible reasons for benching Jabari Parker is to free up time for young players like Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen, who are both also big men. But under Boylen, Carter’s minutes have been inconsistent. Six times Carter has failed to play for 20 minutes in a game. The team is losing, so why not let Carter play through mistakes? “Well, sometimes you learn by sitting, too,” said Boylen. While Markkanen has played more, the Bulls have not played in a system that fits his his biggest strength, 3-point shooting.
Stylistically, the Bulls look terrible. Per ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the team has greatly increased the rate at which they have posted up under Boylen. While it could be argued that the team does not have enough shooters to justify a pace-and-space attack, they do not really have post-up threats either. One of the players posting up all the time is Robin Lopez, who, at 30 years old and in the last year of his contract, is not part of the team’s future, and is not even particularly good at post scoring. The team is last in the NBA in post-up efficiency under Boylen. Perhaps it’s no surprise then that the team is last in the NBA in offensive efficiency this season. While the defense has been better under Boylen, the offense has been so bad that they are losing badly.
Under Boylen, the Bulls’ offense has become the least efficient in the NBA, the players had a mutiny and refused to practice, and the team has piled up losses while struggling to develop young players. He is a joke to the national media. He has shown nothing to suggest he can successfully lead an NBA team, yet the Bulls increased his contract. The front office is behind him. “He’s detailed. He’s passionate. And he’s holding guys accountable. And we need that. A young team needs that more than anything,” said John Paxson. It looks like we will get to experience much more of Boylen.