CHICAGO – When he became the head coach of the Bulls on December 3, 2018, many weren’t sure what to expect out of their new leader.
Jim Boylen had only been an assistant in the NBA, with his only head coaching experience coming at Utah from 2007-2011. He was replacing Fred Hoiberg, who was at the helm for the start of the team’s rebuild in 2017, but was given only 24 games with an injury-riddled team the next season.
No one was expecting anything big, but some moderate progress was expected from management as they gave Boylen the biggest opportunity of his career.
A year later, many are now reflecting on the year the team has been under the leadership of Boylen, which has featured more lows than highs with a number of rocky moments mixed in.
Success certainly hasn’t been there in record as Boylen’s Bulls have posted a 24-55 record since coaching his first game one year ago Wednesday against the Pacers in Indianapolis. That included a 17-41 record after taking over for Hoiberg in 2018-2019 and a 7-14 record through 21 games this season.
That mark is just two games better than Hoiberg had when he was fired from a team that was missing a few starters, including Lauri Markkanen, for a significant part of that stretch.
Things started a little rough in the first week when Bulls’ players had a near mutiny, according to a report from Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic, after Boylen tried to schedule a practice after a back-to-back. The players did show up on that Sunday, which came after a record 56-point loss to the Celtics at the United Center that Saturday, holding a meeting amongst themselves before having one with Boylen.
— Rick Tarsitano (@RickTarsitano) December 9, 2018
“It was a emerging,” said Boylen on December 9th after the reported near mutiny. “It wasn’t ‘they came on my side, I came on their side,’ it was a family having a discussion of how we want to operate this family.”
This smoothed over a bit the rest of the season, to a point where Zach LaVine even offered to pay Boylen’s fine after he was ejected sticking up for the players against the Clippers on March 15th. Yet the team on the floor never really showed many signs of life outside of winning 5-of-6 games in late February and early March.
With nearly their entire starting lineup out with injury in the final weeks of the season, the Bulls lost eight of their last nine games to finish the year 22-60, their worst record since the 2001-2002 season.
With the goal of playoffs presented on media day by executive vice president John Paxson, the team has failed to live up to it so far in the first 21 games of the season. Markkanen fell into a slump in November, averaging just 11.9 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, far from what the team expected out of the former lottery pick.
Once again there was a flare-up in the LaVine-Boylen dynamic when the guard was benched early in a loss to the Heat on November 22nd for poor defense. The guard said after the game that he felt “singled-out” by the benching, but once again there was a talk between the pair before the next night’s game in Charlotte to smooth things over.
LaVine would respond by hitting 13 three-pointers and scoring 49 points in a stunning win over the Hornets in which the guard completed a five-point comeback in the last five seconds with a shot behind the arc.
Through all of it, the team has continued to struggle, and on his one-year anniversary as coach, the Bulls face the Grizzlies Wednesday night at the United Center. He signed a multi-year contract last May with the team, but how long they stick with him will depend as the rebuild continues into the unknown in its third year.