It took the majority of last season for Jim Boylen and Zach LaVine to form a positive partnership. That may have been undone in a matter of minutes against the Miami Heat on Friday night. In the opening 3 minutes, 27 seconds of another lopsided Bulls’ loss, to be exact.
That’s all the time the Bulls needed to give up yet another unanswered run, allowing the Heat to build a commanding 13-0 lead. Having seen enough, Boylen finally opted for a timeout, choosing that moment to send a message to his star player in the process.
After play resumed, LaVine would watch on from the bench as Ryan Arcidiacono surprisingly took his place. It was a telling decision in real time, one we would learn the true significance of during Boylen’s post-game press conference.
Asked why he chose to sit LaVine so soon in the game, Boylen’s offered a blunt response.
Because I didn’t want him in the game anymore. I think he needed to come over and think about it.
Expanding on his decision and citing three consecutive “egregious” defensive mistakes as his justification in forcing LaVine to sit early during the first quarter, Boylen again said a lot without really saying anything at all.
I thought he needed a break. I thought he needed to come (out) and think about it. I felt there was some defensive mistakes that didn’t need to be made. I thought he needed to come over and think about it for a minute. I’ve done that a couple of times this year, as you know.
Ignoring the pompous explanation that lacked true substance or meaning, there’s great irony in Boylen suggesting that he’s benched several players a “couple of times” for some valuable introspection. This, despite only several weeks earlier claiming he never yanks his players out of game.
I’ve never yanked guys. I’ve never done that, you know. I’m not doing that. We’re going develop that second group, and we’re going to have a bench here in Chicago. I’m going to keep coaching them.
Granted, the context in this quote is somewhat different, with Boylen referring to his decision to ride his bench unit while they allowed a 16-0 run to the Los Angeles Lakers in his team’s 118-112 loss on Nov. 5. Still, the underlying point remains: Does Boylen pull his players out of games or not?
Did Rick James rub his dirty feet all over Eddie Murphy’s new suede couch?
Why Boylen saw the crucial moment of the fourth quarter as an opportunity to leave in and develop his bench players against the Lakers, only then to use LaVine as an example is truly puzzling.
Casually oscillating through two varied approaches is a quick way to lose any lasting goodwill with a player. Asked about the trust he has in his coach, LaVine’s answer was concerning, even if justified.
I’m trying my best, I’ll say that. I’m playing my minutes and trying to do the best I can do. It’s tough, especially when you’re in a rut. If he doesn’t trust me, it’s hard to trust someone who doesn’t trust you.
As player and coach took turns in delivering their perspective, it was hard to watch the coach’s press conference without recalling this poignant paragraph from Gordon Monsom’s profile of Boylen in the Salt Lake Tribune almost a year ago.
The problem with Boylen was that he coached basketball like his father boxed. He knocked things down. He hit adversity over the head with a sledgehammer. If trouble arose, he punched it. There were times when a more sophisticated, subtle, stylistic approach was needed. Boylen was not the guy to provide it.
That’s exactly what is happening here. And of course it is. It’s what he was hired to do, to be the abrasive drill sergeant Fred Hoiberg never had the stomach to be, and to undo all the supposed bad habits that had formed under then coach (let’s ignore all the terrible shots Coby White is freely allowed to launch under Boylen.)
It’s not going to work. Not with this group of players who were ever so close to walking out on his militant methodology during his first week on the job.
As Monsom suggested, Boylen forged a reputation during his days as coach of the Utah Utes as someone too quick to bludgeon a problem with fury and rage than opting for a more stable, pragmatic approach. Against the Heat, we saw the former in all its wild glory when the coach actively decided to swing his sledgehammer again, this time firmly connecting with LaVine, who bore the brunt of its force.
While LaVine is a flawed prospect who deserves his share of blame for the team falling to 5-11, he isn’t the lone player on the roster who routinely conjures up head-scratching plays.
Sure, there were some off-hand comments of other players needing to lift their production, most notably Lauri Markkanen, someone else Boylen briefly named in post game tirade. But that criticism paled in comparison to the serving dished upon LaVine.
Choosing to isolate LaVine in such grandstanding fashion was an erroneous decision, one that will carry significantly more weight than any missed rotation a player may cause during the course of a game.
In a season likely already lost to incompetence, this latest occurrence of disharmony between player and coach is the last thing the Bulls needed, and unlike last time, don’t expect LaVine to offer up his money to pay for any future fines Boylen may receive.