Chicago Bulls: Jim Boylen has experienced winning at the highest levels. He is the perfect coach for this team if the players want to get to the next level.
The Chicago Bulls originally hired Jim Boylen in 2015 as an assistant coach on the staff of new head coach Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg’s biggest accomplishment to that point was being awarded the 2012 Big 12 Coach of The Year. He came to the Bulls touted as the next progressive college mind that will transition into a successful NBA head coach. Instead, he finished with a 115-155 record.
Jim Boylen was unexpectedly hired as head coach 24 games into last season and was handed a team in disarray. Fans already disgusted with Gar Forman and John Paxson, questioned how advancing the career of a coach that sat on Hoiberg’s bench could not be a joke.
The fact that Boylen was animated, colorful, passionate and a little strange made everything even that much more difficult to accept. It had to be part of a plot to tank. We prayed that this unexplainable move would finally lead to owner Jerry Reinsdorf deciding to embark on a complete management change.
However, in panic mode, the average fan and even most media, did not pay attention to Jim Boylen’s track record. Boylen is not Fred Hoiberg. He has had a long and successful coaching career that includes being a part of three NBA championship teams. His mentors have been some of the greatest minds in the game. This may actually wind up being the best Chicago Bulls hiring of the John Paxson era, including Tom Thibodeau.
To truly understand why Boylen was the right man to jump in and steer the ship back on course, one must only look at what he did immediately upon being hired. His first few weeks were spent preaching the message, in one of many ways, that the team comes first.
Those who play hard defense will get the most minutes. Those who do not pass the ball will not be on the court to pad their individual stats. If it sounds like basic high school coaching, it should. That’s how far the team had strayed from the expectations of an NBA team. Within a couple of weeks though, the team was once again playing with pride.
Jim Boylen had inherited a professional NBA basketball team that was convinced they could not compete. He broke them down and reminded them that being a Chicago Bull is a privilege. There was to be no more laughing in the locker room after losses.
The message was clear. From that point forward, every thing had to be earned. A big contract did not equate to guaranteed minutes.
Soon Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis were shipped to the Washington Wizards in exchange for Otto Porter Jr. It was the first major move by Bulls management in the Jim Boylen era. Shortly after that, the Bulls won seven out of ten games.
Porter looked like a great pick up, including a 37 point game. Many felt Lauri Markkanen’s play in February was deserving of Player of the Month honors. Zach LaVine, perhaps the last player to jump on the Boylen bandwagon, offered to pay his coach’s fine after an altercation with Doc Rivers. All of Boylen’s questionable antics during the initial few weeks were forgotten. The Bulls were winning and playing hard.
The honeymoon party did not last long however due to numerous key injuries. G-league players were brought up and the only question remaining was whether the Bulls could lose enough games to maximize the odds of getting a top two draft pick.
Boylen did a wonderful job of trying to make that happen too. He finished the year with a 17-41 record. Unfortunately, despite having the 4th worst record in the league, the Bulls landed the 7th pick in the lottery.
However, Boylen made enough of a positive impression to convince the Bulls to offer him a multi-year deal. This is now his team and he is bringing a winning pedigree with him.
It is no coincidence he embraced Ryan Arcidiacono, the one player on the team that has won a championship at the college or NBA level. Boylen wants to coach players that have a “soul and spirit”. Arcidiacono is the poster boy for that. He repeatedly made hustle plays on defense and had one of the highest player efficiency ratings in the league.
Actually, Boylen’s style can be traced back to the coaches he assisted. Besides Hoiberg, the others are legendary. One has to wonder why the Bulls didn’t hire Boylen in the first place. We could have been spared from the coach Jimmy Butler complained didn’t coach “hard enough”.
Heathcote was a defensive strategist who won a National Championship with point guard Magic Johnson.
Izzo who is rumored to have also been on the Bulls radar at times, won a National Championship in 2000, the Dean Smith Award in 2016 and has already been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Izzo is known as one of the most passionate coaches in the college game. His creed is “Players Play – Tough Players Win“.
Last year, Boylen came to Izzo’s defense when he came under criticism for how he handled a freshman player. Boylen commented “He’s direct and honest. He puts time into his guys for permission to be real. He lets guys come back at him and he goes at them. That’s the relationship. He’s not an absentee father. And guys love playing for him.”
That pretty much summed up Boylen’s approach last year and the response he received from his players. It is without question that both Heathcote and Izzo had a major impact on Jim Boylen’s coaching philosophy.
Between his two stints at Michigan State, Boylen spent 11 seasons with the Houston Rockets. There he served as an assistant coach for the great Rudy Tomjanovich. During those years Boylen was part of two consecutive championship teams.
Tomjanovich had high praise for Boylen’s skills when he was originally hired as a Bulls assistant in 2015. That endorsement should not be taken lightly coming from a head coach who won two NBA crowns and the 2000 Olympic Gold Medal.
After Houston, Boylen spent a couple of seasons with the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks. Then, after his second stint at Michigan State, he became head coach at Utah followed by another NBA assistant coaching position with the Indiana Pacers.
Subsequently, from 2013-2015, Boylen joined the San Antonio Spurs staff of Gregg Popovich, arguably the greatest basketball coach of all time. In 2014, they won the NBA Championship with the legendary trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
The influence Pops had on Boylen is evidenced by the large number of times Boylen references Popovich when addressing the media post game. In fact, when Boylen first took over, his players criticized him saying he “isn’t Gregg Popovich“. By the end of the season, the tables were turned. Players respected Boylen’s approach and were all in.
Certainly, Chicago Bulls management is also all in. This past off season they added hard-nosed, team first, free agents Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky. Their two draft picks, Coby White and Daniel Gafford, are young players with high ceilings at positions of need.
Boylen has coached under great coaches. He knows the effort it takes to win a championship, can develop young talent, and understands the mentality of a star. Most importantly, he is confident enough in his own ability to allow players a voice in the locker room.
If the current roster takes Jim Boylen’s coaching to heart, we may be speaking of Boylen as a Coach of the Year candidate and the Chicago Bulls as a playoff team. In that case, the United Center will once again have a soul, and the spirit of Jim Boylen will be the reason.