Chicago Bulls Couldn't Make True Progress Until They Fired Head Coach Jim Boylen

Will Gottlieb@@wontgottliebFeatured Columnist IAugust 14, 2020

FILE - In this Feb. 29, 2020, file photo, Chicago Bulls head coach Jim Boylen prepares for a team timeout during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, in New York. The Chicago Bulls fired coach Jim Boylen on Friday, Aug. 14, 2020, as the new front office begins its remake of a team that missed the playoffs again. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Mark Lennihan/Associated Press

The children of the great city of Chicago will forever remember the summer of 2020 as the summer the Bulls fired Gar Forman, stripped John Paxson of his powers and completed the sweep by relieving head coach Jim Boylen of his duties.

Long overdue.

Boylen's tenure with the Bulls was the sad clown—funny at times, disturbing, emotionally taxing and without any real value. The highlights were rich.

His Trumpian quotes were so ridiculous that they made you forget how detrimental his coaching style and tactics were. He developed bad habits and neglected and improperly used key building blocks. He became the laughingstock of NBA Twitter. And he lost a lot of games.

Boylen's .317 winning percentage over 123 games in charge wasn't only horrendously bad, but historically bad. Only one Bulls coach had a worse tenure: Tim Floyd, who coached the infamous "Baby Bulls" and reversed the course of the iconic franchise in the post-Michael Jordan years.

The Bulls have suffered from toxicity within their walls dating back to the days of Jerry Krause, Phil Jackson and Michael Jordan. Before the team can redirect toward something positive, it needs a cultural makeover. That started with the removal of Paxson and Forman. Arturas Karnisovas took over as president of basketball operations April 13, and he represented the first chance at a functional culture since the early 1990s.

In his four months at the helm, Karnisovas hadn't done much more than hire Marc Eversley as general manager, bringing into question the level of autonomy he was reported to have over the franchise's basketball operations.

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With the NBA on hiatus and the Bulls far from the bubble in Orlando, Florida, Karnisovas and the Bulls wanted to use this time to evaluate and overanalyze their head coaching decision. So while the organization mulled over their possible futures, when it came time to fire Boylen, the phrasing made it clear there was never really a decision to make. Boylen's emotional investment in the team somehow bought him more time than it should have, as the press release cited his "tireless efforts" and his deep level of care for the organization. Every coach cares about the job. That isn't a good reason to keep him.

Passion is no proxy for production. The Bulls have been spiraling, and Boylen made everything worse. He was always going to be removed—it was a matter of when. It was a matter of whether the ownership group would relinquish power to Karnisovas or waste another season.

"Why now?" is a fair question. Was it a coincidence that it happened after a flare-up on Bulls Twitter? Maybe it was rumors of behavior "detrimental to the organization." Regardless, the Bulls have finally ponied up for a blank canvas.

This is finally the new beginning. Karnisovas can do what he was brought in to do—build a foundation of positive culture. Now it's time to think about fun things: roster construction, trades, draft and free agency, building excitement to actually watch basketball games and finding a new coach.

That last point should be seriously deliberated.

With multiple intriguing names on the list of options, the Bulls would be wise to find someone who excels at developing talent, who believes in the vision Karnisovas has in the team moving forward and who will develop strategy and play style that will benefit Zach LaVine, Lauri Markannen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White.

There is some talent on the Bulls roster. They need a lot more. The Bulls are sorely in need of an advanced playmaker who can generate the offense for both himself and others. Almost every player on the roster can only play one side of the ball. They need to turn their offense into a machine rather than a free-for-all.

It goes without saying that the head coach should be a crucial piece in this process, not a mouthpiece and yes-man to the front office. Considering where the Bulls are in their developmental timeline, this decision will impact the direction this core takes moving forward. Firing Boylen was required, but the next choice for head coach is of equal importance.

The Bulls have a chance to set themselves in the right direction. They could also set themselves back and make things even worse.

Karnisovas needed to fire Boylen to have a chance to evaluate the players, assess their fit and rehabilitate the value of some of the stagnating prospects. Maybe the roster isn't talented enough to compete; maybe it is. But it's impossible to know without trying to put them in a position to succeed.

The common thread between championship-caliber teams is a unified front from head of basketball operations to 15th man to strength and conditioning coaches. The Bulls teased fans with hope for a brighter future after removing Paxson and Forman from power after 17 seasons.

That was one of the most critical decisions in the history of the franchise.

Finally, they realized they couldn't make any progress, toward productivity or respectability, until they fired Boylen too.


Follow Will on Twitter, @wontgottlieb.