Looking Back at Jim Boylen’s Erratic Bulls Tenure


Aug. 14, 2020 turned out to be the day Bulls fans have waited for: Jim Boylen no longer being their team’s head coach. His tenure included a 39-84 record, constant run-ins with stars dating back to the ‘3 alphas’ era and wonky rotations and use of timeouts.

Arturas Karnisovas, VP of Basketball Operations, wrote in the Bulls’ statement: “It is time for our franchise to take that next step as we move in a direction and era of Chicago Bulls basketball.”

After getting rid of the controversial GarPax front office, the revamped one of Karnisovas and General Manager Marc Eversley decided to take an extended look at the future of Boylen for the team. However, as seen by nearly every social media post from the Bulls’ official accounts, the fans’ vitriol toward Boylen was at an extended fever pitch.


So how did we get here?

Boylen had been with the team since 2015 as an assistant, dating back to the last run with the Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah Bulls. He was also a part of the short-lived Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler Bulls saga. It was that season, 2016-17, that Boylen’s first negative interaction with a player went public, as Rondo threw a towel at Boylen and was thus suspended for a game.

Following the Bulls’ rebuild, the young team saw little success under then head coach Fred Hoiberg. He was fired in Dec. 2018, and Boylen was immediately named head coach with no interim title. And as quickly as he was given that title, the issues with the players started to grow.

During the season, Boylen held a couple two-hour conditioning practices following his first loss. Those practices were followed by a historic 56-point blowout loss to the Boston Celtics. In that loss, Boylen subbed-out all five starters twice and didn’t play them for the final 21 minutes. He deemed their effort “embarrassing.”

Not a players’ coach

Let’s be honest, anytime your rookie backup center, Daniel Gafford, says that your coach, “Got some things he can get better at as a person and as a coach,” on his Twitch Livestream, there might be some issues that need to be addressed.

With Gafford specifically, things can be traced back to the beginning of this season when he played behind free-agent signing and second-string center, Luke Kornet. It wasn’t until Nov. 19 that Gafford could show what he could do and provided a 21-point performance against the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Another stint in the Boylen-Gafford dynamic came on Jan. 6 against the Mavericks when Gafford went down with an ankle injury. Boylen didn’t take a timeout to get his guy off the court so Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle did it for him.

His relationship with star Zach LaVine has notably been volatile, too. LaVine’s role on the team placed him at odds with Boylen several times from the first practices and throughout the next season.

Boylen subbed out LaVine quickly in the first quarter in a Nov. 2019 game against the Heat which wound up being a blowout in Miami’s favor. Boylen’s reasoning to pulling his star shooting guard was, “I didn’t want him in the game anymore. I think he needed to come over and think about it.” 

LaVine responded, “I guess I was to blame for it. I’ve got pulled early before by him (referring to the Boston game). I guess that’s just his thing to do. You have to take it in stride. I’m not the coach.”

When asked about the trust between he and Boylen, LaVine’s response was, “I’m trying my best. I’ll say that…If he doesn’t trust me, it’s hard to trust someone who doesn’t trust you.”

No Progress

Did players develop under Boylen? It’s hard to say. Markkanen took a noticeable step back in 2019-20 while White showed flashes of his potential playing behind Tomas Satoransky. But even as White became comfortable and made strides, Boylen continued to bring him off the bench rather than start him.

Boylen must not have been impressed with the UNC guard’s historic three-game stretch of 30-plus points off the bench. He also didn’t consider the team being out of playoff reach should have been reason enough to play his rookie more.

Recent demise

A lot of the excitement around the Bulls coming into the 2019-20 season was about the players. LaVine’s continued rise to stardom. The electrifying Coby White getting time to learn the ropes. The big man duo of Markkanen and Carter solidifying its role on the team. However, the seemingly dark cloud of Boylen was constantly over the team. 

Boylen has also had some hiccups with other coaches around the league. He and Doc Rivers were both ejected from a game in the 2018-19 season. Then-coach of the Suns Igor Kokoskov refused to shake Boylen’s hand after the game after Boylen took a timeout while up 14 with 40 seconds left.

He did the same with Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, calling two timeouts in a game while they were up 25-plus over Atlanta.

“He called two timeouts in the fourth quarter,” Pierce said. “I’m looking at him like, ‘you don’t need to sub. Just let it go.’”

The end

That wound up being the final game of the Gar Foreman-and-John Paxson-led front office, and now, the Jim Boylen coaching tenure. 

Accordingly, the Bulls have shut a door that perhaps never should’ve been opened. And now, as Chicago looks toward its future with a multitude of young talent, another high draft pick and a list of coaches wanting the keys to the car, it’s time to see how bright the future is when opening this new door.

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