It took longer than many hoped, but the Chicago Bulls finally fired head coach Jim Boylen on Friday morning.
New Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas took an especially patient approach to the Boylen decision, leading to rumors that the embattled head coach would stick around for the 2020-21 season. There was speculation of ownership meddling and financial concerns after initial reports claimed Karnisovas had full autonomy over basketball decisions.
The lengthy decision-making process for a 39-84 coach (second-worst winning percentage in franchise history ahead of only Tim Floyd) with plenty of baggage remains odd, but Karnisovas ultimately flexed his power and made the right call to make a change at head coach.
“After doing a comprehensive evaluation and giving the process the time it deserved, I ultimately decided that a fresh approach and evolution in leadership was necessary,” Karnisovas said in his official statement. “This was a very difficult decision, but it is time for our franchise to take that next step as we move in a new direction and era of Chicago Bulls basketball. Jim is a great human being that cares deeply about this organization and the game of basketball. I want to thank him for his professionalism and commitment to the franchise.”
Karnisovas took the high road with this statement, and he further explained the timing of this move on a Friday conference call with reporters:
Whatever the reasoning, all that matters now is Karnisovas made the right move. The Bulls can start fresh with a new head coach to go along with the new front-office regime.
This closes the book on a truly bizarre era of Chicago Bulls Basketball. Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg after a 5-19 start to the 2018-19 season, and his first week on the job set the tone for his entire flabbergasting tenure.
A day after the Bulls upset the Oklahoma City Thunder in early December 2019, they suffered a historic 56-point defeat against the Boston Celtics and nearly had a player mutiny against Boylen. The team was unwatchable the rest of the season outside of a brief “run” in February 2019, which was used as a way to sell hope for the 2019-20 season even though the team only won 22 games in 2018-19.
Following what seemed like a stellar summer, Boylen set expectations high by declaring the playoffs as a goal. Instead, the team flopped out of the gate and suffered through another wretched campaign, with 22 wins in 65 games before the season was suspended in March. The Bulls were so bad they couldn’t even qualify for the 22-team NBA restart in Orlando, which included teams within six games of the No. 8 seed in each conference. Injuries played a part in this failure, to be sure, but Chicago didn’t look like a threat even when healthy and went just 2-23 against teams with a .500 record or better.
When Boylen’s Bulls weren’t irrelevant, they were a laughingstock. Sometimes they were both! 2020 All-Star Weekend in Chicago was an embarrassment that featured little Bulls presence. The “Fire GarPax” chants during Zach LaVine’s appearance on ESPN made headlines, and perhaps that comical scene was the final straw that helped spur the reporting on the Bulls looking to make big changes in the front office.
Throughout all this time, Boylen became known for his quirky “Boylenisms” and ridiculous timeout usage. Bulls players and opposing coaches alike clashed with him, while opposing players mocked him. After Friday’s firing, there was even some rather hilarious reporting about Boylen’s behavior:
It’s still baffling why Bulls ownership and former executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson were so willing to hitch their wagon to Boylen given all these gaffes, but the former head coach really must have endeared himself to them. He not only wasn’t fired after 2018-19 but got an extension and still had their support before Karnisovas pulled the plug on Friday.
The Chicago Bulls should have much higher standards, and Karnisovas luckily understands that:
The Bulls will now embark on their first legitimate coaching search since they hired Tom Thibodeau in 2010. A number of names have already been reported as candidates, including former Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Philadelphia 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee Bucks assistant Darvin Ham, Denver Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Minnesota Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool, Dallas Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas and Toronto Raptors assistant Adrian Griffin. Griffin’s candidacy is complicated by domestic violence allegations recently made by his ex-wife, and the Bulls will have to do their due diligence on this front if they have any legitimate interest in hiring him. There will be other candidates on the list.
As the Bulls conduct their coaching search, Boylen’s assistant coaching staff, led by Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers, will reportedly continue to work with players at the Advocate Center. There are ongoing discussions about an in-market workout program for the eight teams not invited to the NBA restart, so the Bulls will be monitoring that as they move forward.
Moving forward is something Bulls fans are excited to do. The franchise has been stuck in a rut since Thibodeau was fired, and these changes in the front office and at head coach is a breath of fresh air. Plenty of work still needs to be done with this roster, but that work couldn’t be properly done until a change was made on the sidelines.