Jim Boylen has many shortcomings as Chicago Bulls head coach. Lauri Markkanen recently highlighted the one that will ultimately cost him his job.
Over the weekend reports broke of Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen speaking on what went wrong between him and head coach (for the time being) Jim Boylen. We were already hearing murmurs that Markkanen could demand a trade if the organization’s direction didn’t change.
Well, they changed alright. John Paxson and Gar Forman are out with Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley in their respective places surrounded by several other highly-respected voices. Just about the only thing Chicago hasn’t changed within the organization is the head coach.
Boylen remains precariously in limbo, with rumors building that it is a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ he will be relieved of his post. Regardless of what ultimately happens with Boylen, Markkanen’s comments likely highlight exactly where the coach fell short.
This translated (by Josh Jeffares of On Tap Sports Net) exchange between Markkanen and Esko Seppänen, the host of Urheilucast, a Finnish podcast, is more telling than even Markkanen probably knows.
"“I had 80 touches per game the past two seasons, this season the touches dropped to 40. Don’t get me wrong, I had some plays drawn with me in mind, but it’s just different. When I spoke with Jim [Boylen], we talked about how I should concentrate on getting rebounds and then leading the fast break. But it’s just really hard getting 40 defensive rebounds.”"
Jeffares rightly points out how Boylen looking for more boards out of Markkanen is appropriate but that the Bulls style of play limits Lauri as much as he does himself.
But that is exactly why Boylen had the support of brass but was never able to ingratiate himself to the city or, more importantly, his players. It’s not that his goals are off, but his paths to get there are. One could imagine a scenario where he went into Paxson’s office and told him all the areas where he thought the team could improve.
What’s harder to fathom is how those in charge could either not ask him his methods to achieving those goals or, worse yet, hearing what those methods would be and approving of them.
It’s reminiscent of Boylen’s handling of Zach LaVine and his not-always-locked-in defense. LaVine is the Bulls top scorer and as a tremendous athlete, it isn’t unfair to ask (and even demand) that he give better, more consistent effort on the less glamorous end. But pulling him as he did made it look like he was trying to show up his player.
LaVine responded by going off for 49 points the next night so maybe some felt Boylen was ultimately justified. Though, that wasn’t Markkanen or, as we saw numerous times on the floor, LaVine. When your two best players aren’t receiving your message you might try altering it a bit. Nope. Boylen often doubled-down on his bad decisions with his coach speak and cliches.
Or take his use of Wendell Carter. He’s perhaps the most consistent member of the team and the anchor of the defense. He isn’t the biggest or most athletic, however, so Boylen’s decision to have him constantly blitz ball screens instead of hanging back to maintain position is part of why the Bulls allowed opponents to convert 63.4 percent of their shots inside of six feet.
Denzel Valentine should have been a valuable weapon for a Bulls team that put a lot more emphasis on three-point shooting this season. Instead, he once again saw fluctuating minutes and a lack of trust from the coaching staff. Some of that was his own doing, sure, but where exactly was the coaching him up?
The most perplexing part of the whole Jim Boylen era with the Bulls is that it wasn’t like they needed time to get to know him. He’s been on the staff since 2015. That just brings us back to the guys who gave him the job. At any rate, those decision-makers are no longer around. It sounds like Boylen is soon to follow.