It’s only been a few days since Fred Hoiberg was fired to make way for associate head coach Jim Boylen. But it’s also felt like a long few days, because no matter how you feel about Hoiberg’s abilities versus management facilitating him, hearing the talk around how Boylen is an improvement has been ridiculous.
It came from the top, where John Paxson only addressed (he also made multiple radio appearances saying the same thing) nebulous intangible failings that only he could assess. ‘Spirit’ is the new nonsense buzzword for this outfit: it’s not the losses that matter, it’s how everybody feels after the losses.
Paxson’s just covering himself, as if you never set goals you can’t fail, and he has truly no clue what the team needs let alone who can help achieve addressing it. Boylen is the guy because he was already in the building.
Now is the time, because...reasons...
I don’t understand how Paxson with a straight face can say that he saw something change between last season’s awful start - where Paxson said Bulls culture was great - and this season’s awful start, and that change was the head coach.
They knew what they were getting in Hoiberg when it came to the ‘spirit’. Hoiberg literally has a physical limitation in providing enthusiasm, he couldn’t even wear a tie for Paxson to grab.
So even if GarPax makes the monumental fire-able mistake of thinking Hoiberg was the guy to lead a contending team, they then pivot to a rebuild and sell us on his ability to reach young players, then think ‘actually well no’ Hoiberg didn’t have the style to lead that. Because his style didn’t change. What did change since last season that may have affected the ‘spirit’ were decisions by management and not Hoiberg: the organization’s backing of Bobby Portis over Nikola Mirotic, their pathetic fumbling of a ‘tank’, their only non-draft moves being paying the player-type of Jabari Parker and Zach LaVine and while punting another player-type in David Nwaba, going into the season with no credible backup point guard and then lamenting the lack of dribble penetration. But damned if Paxson suggests that it’s anything of his doing versus someone he can toss dirt on.
Besides, the spirit was likely fine. Great reporting from Darnell Mayberry of the Athletic provided insight into Paxson getting all red-assed over being demolished by the Warriors earlier this year. First of all, I don’t know know how Paxson discerns that being a ‘spirit’ gap versus a talent one. But even so, the warning was issued and...Hoiberg’s Bulls played better. Pointless positivity was seen. I know, Paxson says he saw other stuff that we can’t. But what I’m arguing in response is: he’s full of shit.
Not a new voice
Though a seemingly typical pivot from soft-touch to hard-boiled (more on that later), Jim Boylen isn’t some outsider like Skiles or Thibodeau. He has been here 3 years and was the associate head coach! So this team’s failings when attributed solely to Hoiberg should also see some responsibility going down to Boylen.
Boylen had already been credited as a ‘defensive coordinator’ for this team. Malika Andrews of ESPN.com (side-swipe comin’: Andrews has already provided more inside information than Nick Friedell did in five years) led a story with this fascinating anecdote of Boylen leading a practice earlier this season. The aforementioned Mayberry article had a lot of reporting surrounding Boylen’s large influence on the team already.
This team leads their summer PR campaign around their offseason work with GarPax kicking off training cap with their usual ‘in the building’ plaudits, and Boylen - just by vitrue of having the head job now - immediately questions the team’s conditioning. #RunWithUs has immediately become #SorryTooWinded (I workshopped that joke with Sam Smith, sorry) and Boylen himself wasn’t responsible for any of that?
this Chicago Meatball nonsense
Beyond questioning the timing of Hoiberg’s dismissal, or the possible change in influence Boylen has, you can try and believe that it works out. Hoiberg was pushed as the ‘great communicator’ whose ability to give young players freedom would help their development. The Kris Dunn renaissance seems so long ago. And maybe it was just that while GarPax was 1) wrong on Hoiberg 2) lying about it, they’re right about this change back to a more Skiles/Thibs mode. Putting aside that they shouldn’t have the power to make that decision for-fucking-ever, maybe their latest young core (version 8? version 14?) does need a firmer hand, and Boylen needed their backing in holding the head coaching title to fully implement it.
But it’d be nice if we could see that change without this cringeworthy Coachy-McCoacherson-tough-guy-blue-collar-dat’s-exactly-right-grit-grind-dirty messaging.
It’s only been one game, but if you are triggered by “da fire and da passion” this has not been good. There’s “road-dog”, “old-school”, the talk about better conditioning, the ‘toughness’ required to get more free throws...there’s this:
Jim Boylen got up clapping and walked down the bench trying to get players to clap when Zach LaVine scored.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) December 5, 2018
And worse was the broadcast and post-game show buying into this big change after one game. Granted, they’re all directly or indirectly employees of the team. Someone who isn’t, the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh, is apparently just a meathead:
Expect the Bulls to ball their fists under Boylen, a defensive specialist...Passive is out at the United Center. Passionate is in — again.
Even if you did see a change in the last game, it was the ‘first game under a new coach’ game! ‘Observers’ should know by now to wait and see if that sustains before proclaiming our gritty new world.
Hopefully these more head-scratching quotes from Boylen are more on the side of bluster, and won’t actually be how the team is coached. What’s as worrisome in that respect is Boylen’s comments regarding pace, intending to provide a more Spurs-ian slowing of the game down, even with his younger and more athletic players returning. Again, it’s just one game, and the Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers were a slow team themselves, so we’ll have to see if ‘pace and space’ has really given way to ‘slow and blow’.
Ultimately, this coaching change potentially has merit, but we won’t know for a while and it’s best to assume first that it’s a bad move. Because it’s a GarPax move, and they’ve built something no coach can likely materially change, let alone one that is getting his first shot and was already on the bench. The kicker to that Haugh column brings that fatalistic view home: he proclaims that, Paxson - another guy Haugh lauds for being so so darned passionate - may see himself being tuned out if this doesn’t work. Now? The last 5 coaching changes he’s led, not so much? I hope the Bulls find the same spirit in their play that Paxson does in spinning towards endless job security.