How did the Bulls find Jim Boylen, and who is he?
The wheels of destiny began to turn in the 2013 offseason after the Atlanta Hawks finally gave 18 year assistant Mike Budenholzer a chance as a head coach. His departure created a ripple effect in the coaching hierarchy among the remaining assistants in San Antonio.
Upon Budenholzer's departure, Boylen and the remaining Spurs coaching staff collectively moved up a rung on the ladder. The promotion was good news for Boylen, but lasted for only a season. Last year's hiring of legendary European coach Ettore Messina to replace Budenholzer as Pop's top assistant returned Boylen and crew back down a rung.
There is talk that Messina is being groomed to be Popovich's successor, as the Spurs transition into a LMA/Kawhi Leonard/Danny Green era. What the hire meant for Boylen was the head assistant coach job in San Antonio would be filled for the foreseeable future.
Adding to the logjam of promising assistant coaches in San Antonio was the emergence of Becky Hammon, who was on that staff last season and this year was chosen to coach the Spurs' summer league team.
Despite owning a reputation as a future NBA coach, Boylen was moving backwards with the Spurs. Falling behind Messina and potentially Hammon was probably a blow to Boylen, who as recently as last season was considered the leading head coach candidate for the Utah Jazz's vacancy. Along came the Chicago Bulls, dangling an Associate Head Coaching title and the opportunity to spearhead the Bulls' defense. It was an offer Boylen couldn't refuse.
Was hiring Boylen picking up the Spurs' crumbs, or taking advantage of an abundance of riches?
As the Bulls searched for assistant coach candidates, they explained that the right man for the job would be someone with ample experience and defensive acumen. Boylen seems like he could be that guy.
Boylan began coaching in the NBA in 1992, and has been an assistant coach on three championship teams (Rockets '94, Rockets '95, Spurs '14). After finding success with Frank Vogel in Indiana, Boylen surprised the organization by jumping ship and joining San Antonio to work under Popovich.
It's unclear how much a good team defense can be attributed to a particular assistant. However, as the collegiate head coach of the Utah Utes, Boylen's teams were known for their defense. Upon his first season, the Utes raised their defensive FG% from last to 2nd in the Pac 12, and were first in defensive 3pt%. Boylen has also been credited for helping the 2012 Pacers climb to first in defensive efficiency.
Rather than hire retread head coaches as the Bulls tried under Vinny Del Negro (Del Harris, Bernie Bickerstaff), the Bulls made a sensible choice to surround Hoiberg with a leading candidate for a future head coaching position. However, the risk with this decision is that it leaves the Bulls coaching staff with zero years of cumulative NBA head coaching experience. Additionally, it puts the Bulls in even worse shape next year should Boylen decide to pursue a head coaching vacancy elsewhere.
The Bulls certainly deserve credit for taking advantage of good timing, monitoring the league, and poaching Boylen away from the Spurs. Here's hoping that the Hoiberg/Boylen tandem is a relationship that will blossom for years to come.