The first half of the Bulls’ 2019-20 season has been derailed by incompetence, injuries and, well, even more incompetence. It’s looks like the prior two years already.
It wasn’t supposed to be. This was supposed to be a playoff competitive season, something Jim Boylen put on record during the team’s season launch media circus. Gifted one of the league’s easiest schedule to date, the Bulls had every opportunity to realise this goal. Instead, the team is 12 games under .500
Worse, they’re showing no signs of maturation in the critical third year of the rebuild.
Have we learned anything? Well, anything positive? The regression of key players and the consistent buffoonery from its head coach has made it more difficult to see through dark clouds and pinpoint any fleeting rays of hope. And so we’re left with even more questions about the state of the rebuild than before.
But we have learned some things…
Boylen is bad and should be fired
This was known already but only confirmed this year. Before the season, perhaps there were some who were mesmerised by the meathead coaching speak of Jim Boylen. Bulls management certainly was, and wanted to give the guy a chance to prove himself with a full offseason and training camp.
That may have been a nice sentiment, but unsurprisingly it turns out Boylen is indeed is a bad NBA coach and most certainly not the one who should have been entrusted to steer the franchise through these critical stages of growth.
There are myriad reasons why this is the case. The team remains one of the worst offenses in the league. The efficacy of the gimmick defensive scheme has been relentlessly discussed all season. Both fundamental concerns that are stalling the development of this young team.
But the truly bizarre in-game decision-making by Boylen is a big part of the poor record mentioned above. There are countless tactical mistakes, but then the truly embarrasing stuff like Boylen actively choosing to leave an injured player in the game against Dallas. You’d think this would be something that likely would have resulted in John Paxson coming down from his ivory tower and choking someone. Yet somehow, this event has barely register a note on the Bulls beat.
Ignoring shenanigans like this may be possible if it weren’t the same coach who almost drove his players to a full-scale mutiny during his first week on the job. But maybe that’s the reason: embarrassments have become the norm.
Owning a career .316 winning percentage during his 98 games as coach of the Bulls, Boylen doesn’t have winning to justify his behavior.
It’s well past time to boot his ass out the door and eat the remaining money and years on his deal, something which shouldn’t be too difficult given he is one of the lowest paid coaches in the league.
Is the core truly mediocre?
Entrusting Boylen to lead the rebuild through is formative years was a bad decision made worse because we still simply do not know how good (or bad) these players truly are.
But maybe they are proving it. Maybe Zach LaVine is not the face of a franchise. Lauri Markkanen is an adequate role player rather than the potential All-Star. But given how flawed the structural decision-making has been around these still-young players, can we truly know the ceiling and limitations?
This has been the greatest disappointment of these seasons, that we can’t emphatically answer such fundamental questions. And then management will say at the end of the year that they can’t answer them either.
That is a failure in itself. There’s been an inability to put these young players in positions to succeed with an actually competent head coach, supported by quality front office management and ownership.
The Memphis Grizzlies have worked this out very quickly. They have been what everyone expected the Bulls to be this season: team on the rise, pushing toward the playoffs due to a balance of quality young talent and complimentary veterans.
But the Bulls are not the Grizzlies perhaps for a more simple reason, they have no player comparing to Ja Morant or to a lesser extent Jaren Jackson Jr.. That being so, there really is no choice but to look elsewhere for the next franchise saviour. As we still remain unsure about the players on the roster, that talent infusion needs to come from elsewhere.
What is the point of the second half?
It will not be a notable achievement if the Bulls stumble to 32 wins, even if that somehow pushed for the 8th seed in a pathetic Eastern Conference. Not when the biggest and most important questions about the direction of the franchise remain largely unanswered.
In fact, it would be a detriment: the Bulls having this achievement to boast about would only push the franchise further into mediocrity with playoff participant Boylen.
That leaves one true goal for the remainder of the season: Lose as many games as possible.
This helps for draft positioning purposes, which as stated above is crucial if we see currently on the roster nothing more than a group of merely good players. More importantly, though: losing amplifies the external noise aimed at those running the team. Who knows if they can hear it through the thick walls of the United Center, but true change will only come if the record continues to decline and keeps impacting the discourse surrounding the team and most importantly home attendance.
Frankly, watching your team lose is shit. Begging for it to happen is worse. No one needs to sit through another wasted rebuilding season. But do we have a better option?
A longshot outcome is where LaVine continues to emerge as a legitimate scoring option, with Markkanen joining him. Hopefully Wendell Carter can return at some point and continue his sophomore growth. Some positive signs from Coby White would be welcomed, too. But that can all happen while the team drops games. Carter’s absence will make that task even easier.
Sadly, that is what we should be rooting for: player development and losses. It sucks that it has to be like this, but I’m fairly certain this is the true intentions of the Mandalorians when they say “this is the way.”