The Chicago Bulls are Coming Together Despite Their Coach

Zach LaVine, Jim Boylen, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Zach LaVine, Jim Boylen, Chicago Bulls (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

It has been a tumultuous start to 2019 for the Chicago Bulls but they might finally be coming together. However, it seems it is despite their head coach.

Perhaps you didn’t hear, but the Chicago Bulls won back-to-back games for the first time this season. There are other positive subplots in this “win-streak” as well. Zach LaVine has continued to show he is one of the NBA’s best pure scorers and is averaging 30 points and shooting 50 percent from deep over the last six games and closed out the win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

Lauri Markkanen has come alive offensively recently as well, averaging 16 points over the Bulls last three contests. He is still lacking on the glass, but his scoring has been sorely missed.

Wendell Carter is becoming the Al Horford clone he was billed as coming out of Duke. He does need to work on staying out of foul trouble but at least some of that is due to the scheme the Bulls play. Ditto for Kris Dunn who has embraced a Marcus Smart-type of role off the bench.

Rookie point guard Coby White has shown the stage is nowhere close to being too big for him even if he sometimes turns into Kobe White. Tomas Satoransky has scored double-digit points in four-straight and five the last six games. That’s a welcome sight after his offensive struggles led to calls for his replacement with White in the starting lineup.

But through all of the positive signs of growth, one thing has stood out as a roadblock both to the Bulls immediate future and their long-term vision for this franchise. That one thing is the disconnect between the team and head coach Jim Boylen.

His tenure started under less than clear circumstances seeing as how he was an assistant under former head coach Fred Hoiberg before being given the job, reportedly at the behest of general manager Gar Forman.

Things got worse from there as a team riddled with injuries had to go through what was being described as a near-mutiny. Boylen came in holding extended practices and practicing after back-to-backs. They ran gassers and did military-style push-ups…after games! But LaVine offering to pay his coach’s fine late last year seemed to be a turning point.

Flash forward to this year and the galvanizing moment for this iteration of the Bulls might be the back and forth LaVine and Boylen had a few games ago after the latter pulled the former early in a game to prove a point.

LaVine sparked the Bulls comeback in that game. He and Markkanen would essentially hijack the offense a few games later and found success with more of a two-man game. Markkanen has struggled to find his stride in the new multiple ball-handler system but a return to more comfortable actions helped him find his stroke.

That is just an example of the players seeing something broken and fixing it on their own instead of waiting for their coach to do it. Boylen has been slow to adjust (or set good rotations or call timeouts at good times…) since he got the job.

Satoransky rewarded Boylen’s faith in him (or saved his bacon depending on your perspective) by coming out of his scoring woes. No other part of his game was in question but his tentativeness in looking for his shot often killed possessions. If he had kept on that trajectory it would have been hard for Boylen to justify his starting over White.

The slow decision to play rookie big man Daniel Gafford more took too long to happen. The Bulls spent a large portion of their early schedule getting outworked down low, particularly when Carter sat. They still aren’t great on the boards, namely on the defensive glass, but Gafford’s energy and athleticism have made a noticeable difference.

All of these things beg the question of what exactly is Boylen bringing to the table? If his biggest contribution has been waiting out a player’s scoring slump then he isn’t adding much.

Then you have videos like the one showing players avoiding Boylen at the end of the game against the Charlotte Hornets after Zach hit the game-winning three. Or this clip of Boylen trying to rally the disinterested troops.

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Again, showing the patience with Sato and letting Coby close out games do count and they have paid off for Boylen. But there have been just as many gaffes to mitigate the positives and even push the situation into ticking time bomb territory. The Bulls are coming to a crossroads here with their head guy. They are winning despite Boylen. That can only last so long.