NBA Rumor: Jim Boylen Hot Seat?

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Karnisovas does own full autonomy. And the criteria for presenting a coaching change to ownership is the same now as it was when ownership hired Karnisovas. He’s free to make a change if he wishes, but was told to take time to get to know Boylen and evaluate him fully before doing so. That’s what Karnisovas and Eversley are doing. The Bulls may not be playing, but the 2019-20 season isn’t over yet. The Bulls, as of now, aren’t allowed group activities. So what’s the rush?

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Karnisovas does own full autonomy. And the criteria for presenting a coaching change to ownership is the same now as it was when ownership hired Karnisovas. He’s free to make a change if he wishes, but was told to take time to get to know Boylen and evaluate him fully before doing so. That’s what Karnisovas and Eversley are doing. The Bulls may not be playing, but the 2019-20 season isn’t over yet. The Bulls, as of now, aren’t allowed group activities. So what’s the rush?

K.C. Johnson: This, from @wojespn, echoes what I said on @mullyhaugh on @670TheScore yesterday and wrote on July 21. With the 20-21 calendar uncertain, the long play remains in effect. In meantime, AK has empowered Boylen, staff during evaluation process. Where are the Chicago Bulls on Jim Boylen’s future? “Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley are spending time evaluating and getting to know Boylen, and remain in no rush deciding on the coach’s future. They’re able to watch him in the gym with players, talk philosophy and learn about his staff. Because several potential head-coaching candidates among the assistant’s poll are coaching in the bubble for the foreseeable future, there’s even less rush to open up a search process now.”

Bulls keeping Jim Boylen?

Beyond the fact Karnisovas has publicly declared himself to be a “thoughtful and deliberate decision-maker,” the above reasons make it easy to understand why Karnisovas hasn’t yet gone to ownership to present a case for a coaching change. And also why it wouldn’t surprise if he didn’t do so for 2020-21. Unless a proven, decorated entity is available, such a change would be a hard sell at a time when the team’s main source of revenue has dried up and no formal group activities are occurring. Only Karnisovas knows if, say, giving a first-time head coach an opportunity is an ask of ownership he wants to cash in during this unprecedented time.

Management has sought Boylen’s input on player development strategies, according to sources. There have been discussions regarding the draft and free agency. Boylen has watched voluntary workouts at the Advocate Center with Karnisovas and Eversley, and they’ve dined together as well. This also has been previously reported, but Karnisovas has a comfort level with lead assistant coach Chris Fleming, with whom he worked in Denver. He knows assistant coach Dean Cooper from their shared backgrounds with the Houston Rockets. And he made the decision to retain Loenser.

Karnisovas and Eversley have said they plan to create a player-friendly franchise, and LaVine and Thad Young both have praised their communication and transparency. Any negative player feedback regarding Boylen, which on Monday featured a jab from backup center Daniel Gafford as he streamed himself playing video games, it seems management is trying to offset by creating a positive, inclusive atmosphere. That atmosphere has included Boylen, who sources said visited White in North Carolina before White returned to Chicago as part of Boylen’s normal offseason routine to build relationships with players. For now, those visits are on hold with so many players in-market and COVID-19 cases spiking again.

In his first public comments about his new bosses, Boylen sounded encouraged and spoke positively about the relationship he has formed so far with Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversely. “The relationship has gone really well,” Boylen told WOOD-TV at a “Unity in the Community” event in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich. “We communicate every day. I think they understand where we were, what we’re trying to get to. They’ve been very supportive and collaborative. It’s a process to build this team into what it can be. “I just like the fact that we have a relationship already. It’s never perfect. Nothing’s perfect. You just work at it. Tell the truth. You get your guys to play hard. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

A source reiterated on Friday that head coach Jim Boylen remained confident that he will keep his job heading into next season, and was pleased with the relationship he’s already built with Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley. The Sun-Times, however, reported last month that Karnisovas and the new-look front office had heard enough from key players and the mixed feelings they had about Boylen, to be prepared to make a coaching change once they went through a “deliberate’’ process of getting to personally know Boylen.

As the Sun-Times has reported, Boylen’s fate was all but sealed after a handful of players – several of them the Bulls’ better talent – painted a less than flattering picture of Boylen to new executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas in individual calls Karnisovas made upon taking the job. Then add in several other behind-the-scenes waves, the fact that new regimes almost always want their own guy in the head-coaching chair and, of course, Boylen’s .317 winning percentage, and it doesn’t look great for Boylen once the Bulls can start talking to candidates rather than using back channels.

As also was reported, the wild card in all of this is chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, who could play the role of governor and make that last-second call to save Boylen. It’s very unlikely, considering multiple high-ranking sources in the organization have doubled down on the idea that while the Reinsdorfs and former VP of basketball operations-turned-advisor John Paxson like Boylen, they will not step on the trust they have in the new front office to make the right decisions.

On the minus side, Boylen is 39-84 (.317) since taking over a rebuilding program. Players have offered mixed feedback on his tenure. Even with two years remaining on his contract, Boylen’s salary places him on the lower end of NBA coaches, so eating that money — along with some of his assistants? — isn’t prohibitive. (Although it’s fair to wonder if the pandemic and its financial impact affects this thought.) Karnisovas said he was hired to “affect change” and most new executives want their own coach in place.

On the minus side, Boylen is 39-84 (.317) since taking over a rebuilding program. Players have offered mixed feedback on his tenure. Even with two years remaining on his contract, Boylen’s salary places him on the lower end of NBA coaches, so eating that money — along with some of his assistants? — isn’t prohibitive. (Although it’s fair to wonder if the pandemic and its financial impact affects this thought.) Karnisovas said he was hired to “affect change” and most new executives want their own coach in place.

Jim Boylen's fate sealed?

Joe Cowley: I believe in my heart from the people I’ve talked to… Arturas (Karsisovas) has done enough and talk to enough people, Marc (Eversley) obviously has talked to enough people. And it’s just not what the players have said, there’s other personnel that have had a mixed bag with Jim (Boylen) and there’s some circumstances behind some things that I think are already known and will come out and you know, his fate is kind of sealed.

Karnisovas has told Boylen and his staff to focus on coaching for now. This, to me, shines a light on Karnisovas’ leadership style. At least for now, he’s empowering Boylen to do his job. That means film study, draft prep, contact with players, voluntary workouts at the Advocate Center (now that those are allowed), assigning projects to assistant coaches on how to get personnel better. Typical offseason stuff. Until he’s told otherwise, Boylen is the coach. This is a big boy league. Everybody understands what can happen when new management comes in. Karnisovas has empowered Boylen for now while also communicating that he and general manager Marc Eversley will evaluate all departments.

Coach Jim Boylen’s future: “I’m going to keep saying the same thing that I always have. It’s not for me to judge somebody. I think he goes out there and does his best. I don’t think anyone in this organization or the NBA goes out there and tries to fail. Sometimes it’s out of your power, your win-loss record or what happens in games. I know for a fact he tries, he’s does his best, and as a player that’s all you can ask for sometimes. As a player I try to go out there, follow the lead, go out there and do my job, and decisions on things like that I leave that up to higher management. That’s not my role in the organization. I think you knew I was going to answer that correctly.”

Much of the player feedback the duo received about Boylen during the hiatus raises questions about his long-term fit. However, Karnisovas is known as a deliberate, thoughtful decision-maker who has worked to empower Boylen for now. For instance, in a sign of Karnisovas’ leadership style, he has communicated to Boylen to focus strictly on coaching and working with his staff and players, sources said. Too often last season, Boylen got wrapped up in dealing with player agents or honoring commitments on the business operations side, which sidetracked his focus.

The Sun-Times has reported that Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley have already had detailed discussions with players and retained personnel, and were getting enough mixed feedback of what’s gone on the last year that they were leaning toward starting with a new coach of their choosing. Ownership and former VP of basketball operations John Paxson have given support for Boylen, but a source reiterated that COO Michael Reinsdorf was by no means influencing the front office’s decision on the coach and would allow Boylen’s dismissal if Karnisovas wants to go that way. No questions asked.

Why would the Bulls blow up the front office, get their guy, let him reshape everything and then make it known they want to keep a coach who isn’t well-liked by players and hasn’t been successful? – Red J., via Twitter. They didn’t. Arturas Karnisovas runs basketball operations and has full authority to make basketball-related decisions. This was made abundantly clear during the interview process. All Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf did was explain the positive attributes he and former executive vice president John Paxson saw when they hired and extended Boylen and asked Karnisovas to get to know him before making a decision on Boylen’s future. From Karnisovas’ reputation around the league as a thoughtful, substantive decision-maker, it sounds like he would have done this anyway. But make no mistake: Boylen’s future will be Karnisovas’ call.

They’ve told Boylen to focus on coaching the team while they work to evaluate all departments, including him and his staff. Along those lines, Boylen is talking to players and his staff, and watching film. If there’s a resumption of the 2019-20 season for all 30 teams, I think it’s more likely than not he coaches those games. Beyond that, I haven’t seen any belief or reporting, including mine, that suggests Boylen will be the long-term answer for this regime. It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that most executives want their own coaches in place. Heck, John Paxson fired his former teammate in Bill Cartwright to bring in Scott Skiles less than six months after succeeding Jerry Krause.

When Karnisovas and Marc Eversley were hired, both executives made a point of saying they’d evaluate every department and that they’d work to make the Bulls a players-first organization. Given that players occasionally questioned their usages and the offensive and defensive systems last season, their feedback on Boylen won’t be all positive. Nobody doubts Boylen’s care factor, which Karnisovas has publicly acknowledged. But when there’s clarity on the NBA calendar, and the offseason and start date for 2020-21, there will be more clarity on Boylen.

New coach for the Chicago Bulls

Meanwhile, according to a source, Arturas Karnisovas, the Bulls’ new head of basketball operations, and new general manager Marc Eversley have already had detailed discussions with players and retained front-office personnel — and are getting enough mixed feedback about the last year that they’re said to be leaning toward starting fresh with a new coach once the NBA decides how to resolve this season. Barely a month on the job, Karnisovas walks a fine line between pleasing the Reinsdorfs and reminding them that this new front office was hired with the promise of full autonomy and trust on basketball-related decisions.

The arguments for keeping Boylen are that he cares about the organization, that several players have spoken very favorably about him and that he carried out what the previous front office wanted this season, even with a mostly injured roster. But two things might sink Boylen. First, according to a source, several key players ripped Boylen to the new front office. And there’s also the elephant in the room of a 39-84 (.317) record since Boylen took over from Fred Hoiberg in December 2018.

Adrian Griffin and Ime Udoka among coaching candidates to replace Jim Boylen

Boylen has laid low since the NBA suspended its season on March 11. His lone public comments came two weeks ago, in the form of a team-issued press release in which he welcomed Karnisovas, congratulated Michael and Jerry Reinsdorf and thanked former bosses John Paxson and Gar Forman once more. Behind the scenes, however, Boylen is working as if he’ll be in place next season. A league source told The Athletic minor changes already are in the works with the current staff.

And make no mistake about it, Karnisovas will have full control over basketball operations, including the futures of Forman, head coach Jim Boylen, and the entire coaching staff. A source told the Sun-Times Thursday morning that Boylen is already concerned that he will be ousted, and was hoping to sit down with his new bosses and discuss his year-and-a-half on the job. Whether Boylen will get that opportunity is obviously yet to be decided, but even his biggest supporters — the Reinsdorfs — won’t be throwing a life preserver his way if Karnisovas wants to go in a different direction.

Speaking individually to a handful of media outlets before the game against the Clippers, Paxson backed coach Jim Boylen and reiterated that Boylen isn’t on the hot seat in his first full season. “First of all, our fan base has been terrific, and I’m really sensitive to [their frustration],’’ Paxson said. “I want our fans to care about us; I want them to see a product out there that they can root for. I get it. I own that. I own that we’re not at that level. I’m in lockstep with Jim and his commitment to where we want to get to. That’s not wavering at all.’’ When asked if Boylen was in trouble, Paxson said, ‘‘No, no.’’ No Christmas Day surprises, such as a coach getting fired? “No, look, there is no quick fix to right where we’re at,’’ Paxson said. “I’ll say this again, I thought — and we all did — we would have a better record than we do right now. I do believe we have talent. It’s young, and there’s not a lot of experience, but I do believe we have talent. So we’ve underperformed in that area, but there’s no quick fix in this right now. That’s the view I have to take.’’

Jim Boylen's job safe for now

A team that entered the year with playoff hopes finds itself just 8-16 against a relatively soft early schedule. Yet our reading of the tea leaves says Jim Boylen is safe. For now. Probably. League sources say that team president John Paxson remains a fan of Boylen’s tough-love approach despite the disappointing results thus far. Part of the blame for the slow start can also be shared by injuries to Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison that left the team with no real small forwards. Boylen’s defensive scheme has drawn plenty of criticism, especially since it’s an odd fit for a big lineup that aside from Thaddeus Young lacks fleet-footed bigs.

But to be fair, Chicago’s 29th-ranked offense is the more pressing concern. Sources say Boylen remains unpopular in the Chicago locker room, which isn’t surprising given that his tenure began with a near-mutiny over his grueling practices and formation of the much-derided “Leadership Committee.” His unpopularity with the players would be the driving force behind any move by management, who otherwise seem satisfied and gave him an extension before the season.
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