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A Blame Game: Boylen and Management Must be Held Accountable

From the coaches to the advisers to the executives to the owners, changes must be made.

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This Bulls season has certainly not lived up to the hype placed upon it by management at media day. The goal was to compete. The goal was to make the playoffs. And the goal was to ensure player development. One focal point that Gar Forman and John Paxson laid on on media day was that Jim Boylen is the guy going forward. He is going to lead the ship.

Boylen signed a three-year extension with the team during the summer without any real coaching search done by the front office. Paxson previously that Boylen is one of the most talented coaches he had come across.

However, I don’t think he is in the right position to talk about recognizing talent considering this is the same person who chose Michael Carter-Williams over now All-Star front runner Spencer Dinwiddie and decided it would make sense for the team to trade its All-NBA superstar in Jimmy Butler for a draft bust in Kris Dunn.

Paxson hired Boylen simply so he can be a ‘yes man’ for him and take the pressure off of himself considering how incompetent of an executive he is, and now the Bulls are facing the severe consequences. This season was supposed to be fun and enjoyable. The Bulls signed quality free agents, drafted two exciting young prospects, and had a talented core in place. But this season has been a disaster, so let’s talk about what has gone wrong.

The Chicago Bulls are now multiple games outside of the playoffs. No positive developments have been made by the team, and if anything, they have regressed. The players have lost all trust in Boylen and have completely moved on from him, as mentioned by Sam Vecenie of The Athletic almost every time he talks Chicago Bulls. In simpler terms, Jim Boylen has lost the locker room.

And let’s not act like we can’t see it. The players’ facial expressions are horrific while talking with Boylen during the games. They don’t look interested or engaged whatsoever. The roster has a collective attitude similar to that of a teenage girl rolling her eyes at her out-of-touch boomer father after he forbids her from staying out past 9 PM.

The postgame pressers seem to be the worst part of the whole ordeal. Almost every player on the roster will take thinly veiled shots at Boylen, which often tends to be about the chaotic game plan he is using. An example of this comes from Kris Dunn after the Bulls’ dreadful loss to the New Orleans Pelicans last week: “Teams are making adjustments. And we gotta be able to adjust with them. Credit New Orleans. They made adjustments to our defense. We did not.”

These adjustments must be made by Jim Boylen. You cannot expect your gimmicky overly aggressive defensive scheme to not be exploited by the opposition if you continue to play the exact same way. That is why the Bulls have ranked 28th in defensive rating over the last week after being inside the top ten all season. While some coaches are good at making adjustments, others are good at talking about spirit and soul, which seems to be Boylen’s specialty.

One thing that irks Bulls fans is that Jim Boylen continues to never take accountability for any Bulls’ losses in his post-game presser. He always finds a way to pile it onto the players, whether that is to take the heat off of himself or because he can’t think of a good enough excuse to say to the media. The latter probably makes sense, given Paxson has already tried to shut him up multiple times this season.

He seems to be repeating himself almost every game, saying the Bulls are either too young, not experienced enough, or need to change their mindset. Boylen also says he has seen growth from his players, even when they are losing by over 20 points, Lauri Markkanen takes seven total shots, or Wendell Carter Jr. is afraid to look at the basket from ten feet out. This has to be some type of sick joke. What sort of development are we seeing? Spirit development?

Piling the blame onto his players has been a problem for Jim Boylen since he replaced Fred Hoiberg back in December of 2018. He can never take accountability, which is a sign of unprofessionalism as an NBA coach.

Boylen called out the soft-spoken Finn Lauri Markkanen earlier this season, saying that “I can’t go out there and play for him.” Since then, Lauri Markkanen has been awful in this system. No opportunities playing with Boylen. Zero development from your top player. Embarrassing.

Image result for letterkenny embarrassing gif

Maybe the best example of Jim piling blame onto his player was back in mid-November when star guard Zach LaVine was benched in the first quarter by Boylen for an apparent three egregious mistakes (he never specifically mentioned what these mistakes were). Boylen proceeded to be harsh on LaVine in his postgame presser, saying, “I didn’t want him in the game.” Maybe he didn’t want you in the game, Jim.

He proceeded to say that LaVine and the starters weren’t playing with enough edge, physical toughness, and competitiveness. Then after getting choppy with media personnel for a few minutes, Boylen topped off one of his greatest press conferences by saying that the Bulls are still looking for a player to win games for them. This was clearly a point-blank shot at Zach LaVine, who prides himself on taking over games and being the Bulls’ first option.

And I think we all knew how LaVine responded to the criticism from his head coach, even after Zach offered to pay Boylen’s fines months ago after he was ejected for getting into it with Clippers coach Doc Rivers. Zach responded the next day with a career-high 49 points. To go along with that career night, he finished with 13 three-pointers (most in Bulls history, second-most in NBA history) and hit a seemingly improbable game-winning shot after the Bulls were down eight with 25 seconds remaining. They had a 99.8% chance of losing that game, per Stephen Noh of The Athletic.

LaVine did this just under 24 hours after being called out by his coach, trading comments all over the media and having to meet with him prior to the game to talk things over. It seems like the Bulls found their closer to me.

While we could talk about the gameplans, timeouts, and rotations that make absolutely no sense at times, another important issue about Boylen that’s nowhere near criticized as much as it should be is his inability to control his roster. We have discussed the dilemmas between Jim and Zach LaVine, but maybe the most important comment that seemed to fly under the radar is what he said to Kris Dunn earlier this season.

Kris Dunn has been in trade talks ever since he arrived in the NBA. While the fourth-year player may certainly not be the best player in the league, he has been relatively good for the Bulls this season. Kris has been playing to his strengths and has become one of the best guard defenders in the league. However, Boylen’s quote regarding Dunn has really stuck out to me.

He told K.C. Johnson that Kris has “created value for himself because all 30 teams are looking for guys who can take a role and run with it.” I don’t think I have ever heard an NBA head coach tell reporters a player on his roster has gotten his value up. From assumption, it is fairly obvious Boylen is talking about trade value here also. What a joke.

Boylen’s mishandling of his players has gone under the radar quite a bit over his tenure with the Bulls too. It is extremely immature. Just take a look at Denzel Valentine. Denzel was the Bulls’ 14th overall pick back in 2016, the last surviving member from the three alphas season. He was primed for a massive 2019-20 season after missing last year with reconstructive foot surgery.

The Bulls have been plagued with injuries all season at the wing spot, yet Jim Boylen continues to not play his only healthy wing in Valentine. He instead defers to using undersized point guards in either Ryan Arcidiacono or Shaquille Harrison. Valentine has been given DNP’s all season long, and that doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon. However, Denzel has finally had enough of Jim Boylen’s antics after a report came out earlier this week that made it seem Valentine would be more than happy to be moved off of the Bulls. We don’t blame him.

The most frustrating part about this situation is that the Bulls have been really good when Denzel Valentine plays. They were 6-6 in the month of December (the first time they held a .500 record since 2018) and Valentine was playing key rotational minutes off the bench. He would often close games and bring a lot to the table for the Bulls with his ability to create plays for teammates. He’s also an elite catch-and-shoot three-point shooter, which is something the Bulls lacked at the time after ranking in the bottom tier in three-point percentage and assists as a team.

Valentine has averaged only 11 minutes this season, almost seven less than his rookie season when he was playing behind Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. When Boylen asked why Valentine hasn’t been in the rotation, Boylen’s response was simply “because I said so.” Way to show maturity in the locker room, Jim.

Boylen believes that Denzel is not seasoned enough, despite him being one of the oldest players on the team, and also believes that he needs to stay ready if he wants to play for this team. I don’t think telling a former NCAA small forward of the year who might have the highest basketball IQ on the team to stay ready is a good idea, but that could just be me.

Somehow, Boylen has managed to do plenty more to cause chaos in the Bulls locker room, despite being the head coach for just over 90 games. Sure, Denzel was benched — and that wasn’t the smartest idea — but benching rookie Daniel Gafford for the first 13 games despite having serious big men depth issues was an idea that has proven to make a lot less sense. The Bulls began the first 13 games with a 4-9 record. They lacked energy, they lacked excitement, and they lacked rim protection coming off the bench. Luke Kornet just wasn’t cutting it.

Daniel Gafford possesses all of those traits, but yet somehow found himself glued to Boylen’s bench for 13 straight games before receiving an opportunity. And he was given that opportunity against the Milwaukee Bucks. LaVine responded from the benching with 49 points, following it up by averaging 30.1 points in his last 16 games. Denzel responded with multiple big shots to win a game against the Los Angeles Clippers and meaningful bench minutes.

Rookie Daniel Gafford responded with 21 points on 8/9 shooting against the best team in the league in his first real NBA opportunity. He had finally been unleashed, and the display of skills from Gafford made you wonder what Boylen was thinking as to why the rookie wasn’t given an opportunity despite the Bulls lacking his biggest skills.

The problems with Jim Boylen as a head coach have not seemed to go away. His responses to questions got so bad earlier this season that management told him he can no longer speak to the media about injuries. He was the reason an entire player mutiny nearly began last season in Chicago, just a week after being appointed as head coach.

He has become the epitome of an old-school coach who won’t even call a timeout for an injured player unless his foot has come right out of his shoe. Rick Carlisle, the Mavericks coach, even had to CALL A TIMEOUT because Boylen wouldn’t call one for Gafford, who suffered a sprained ankle and could barely walk off the court. Are you kidding me?

Jim Boylen has been given over 12 months now, and he has proven absolutely nothing. The Bulls have lost ground during those 12 months. Nothing has improved. Not a single thing. One can only handle so much competitive spirit talk. Enough is enough.

Photo: NBA.com

When Boylen likes or does not like a player, you certainly know about it. Just look at Jabari Parker. While essentially offered nothing defensively, he was still the Bulls’ second-best scorer at the time. Any offensive output was needed by a team that ranked 30th in the league, yet Boylen refused to play him and left the Bulls’ number one free agent sitting on the bench to rot (similar to Valentine) until he was traded for Otto Porter Jr. last season. I’m sure ol’ Jerry didn’t like that.

Another old-school tactic Jim has implemented is an army-type ethic into the Bulls locker room, where players punch into work by using an ancient time clock. For a coach who is already made fun of by most of the league already, this isn’t the best way to replenish your reputation. Anything to do with punching and Bulls has never seemed to go well together either, you can ask Bobby Portis about that one.

This is the same coach who wants the Bulls to play the exact same style of defense the 2014 Miami Heat played. The same coach who wants the Bulls to average 35 assists (something no team in NBA history has ever done). The same coach who believes there is nothing wrong with the Bulls losing games. The same coach who said he is seeing positive growth, even when the Bulls lose by double digits to the league-worst Golden State Warriors. This is the same coach who takes pride in calling timeouts with 0.5 seconds left in a quarter.

What I can actually respect about Jim Boylen as an NBA head coach is that he is a sharp basketball mind who does care about the team and does have them playing hard. But on the other hand, Jim Boylen is a massive part as to why the Chicago Bulls have been so disengaged all season, and he does play a big part in the incompetent systems the Bulls have been running, despite playoffs being the goal of this season. It is extremely clear that he has played a huge part in ruining Lauri Markkanen’s development this season with his “equal shot” offense. Markkanen is mentally deprived when playing under Boylen, and I don’t blame him when Luke Kornet is playing more minutes.

Playing Lauri Markkanen less than 30 minutes in a rotation without Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford is certainly a fireable offense, but do you want to know the funniest part? Jim Boylen isn’t even the main blame for any of this mess that we have had to witness this season.

The majority of the blame falls on the president of basketball operations, John Paxson. Maybe the craziest part about all of this is that Jim Boylen’s job is still very safe. Paxson came out of hiding to speak to media earlier this season, insisting that Boylen is not on the hot seat and that his job is as safe as they come. The reality is that Boylen’s job does not need saving.

One thing Boylen has done really well as an NBA head coach is deflecting blame from where it really deserves to go, which is to his bosses John Paxson and Gar Forman, who employed him in the first place. Boylen has always been very good at giving the right answers at the right time, just to keep the incompetent front office happy and keep THEM off of the hot seat.

They have been using Boylen to take the heat off of them for the time being. Their biggest goal is to make Jim look as bad as possible and to avoid as much media attention on themselves as possible. They want people to talk about Jim’s problems, not their own. They use him to deflect and carry out their wishes. He’s a ‘yes man’ and the ultimate fall guy.

Photo: BrettFox5/Twitter

The direction of this Bulls team is extremely unclear, and as long as the guys upstairs are John Paxson and Gar Forman, it will remain that way. Bulls fans have had to endure countless tanks, trips to the lottery, and years of failure since the days of Michael Jordan. Paxson hasn’t accomplished a lot in his 17 years with the Bulls front office aside from lucking out on Derrick Rose, and it looks as though Bulls fans are preparing for another tough year.

The front office uses Jim Boylen. The owners use the front office. The owners use us, the fans, to think this franchise still has flashes of the success they experienced well over 20 years ago. From the coaches to the advisers to the executives to the owners, changes must be made. The dysfunction of this team is a joke. They are officially the laughing stock of the NBA.

Wonder why they cannot attract a star free agent? That is why.

Welcome to your 2019-20 Chicago Bulls, ladies and gentleman.


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NBA Writer based in New Zealand.

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