A hopefully-brief (I can get wound up on this, but am also so very tired) update on what’s happening in Bullsdom.
The team - and you’re excused for no longer paying attention - is currently in a twenty game deathmarch of uselessness. They’ve sandwiched a win over a .500 team with losses to the friggin’ Knicks and friggin’ Timberwolves. This doesn’t matter in the least. Even John Paxson has indicated that he cannot evaluate while there’s injury, and though some players have returned others remain out. But even when every expected starter returns (and maybe starts? why is Otto Porter coming off the bench?), the on-court anecdotal evidence is not predictive of anything. We saw it last year during the greatest February by an otherwise-garbage team ever, and the only thing less informative than NBA February is NBA March.
But it is kind of news that Jim Boylen is using these games to advocate for his job security. After a whole year of smiling like a goofus and shamelessly lying about his accomplishments, he turned to an old trick after last night’s loss:
Boylen preferred to talk toughness and rebounding after the game. He had just watched his team collapse once again in the second half, winding up on the wrong end of a 33-21 third quarter. And after the Bulls frantically rallied within five from a 14-point hole inside the final three minutes, they surrendered two costly offensive rebounds in the final 46 seconds that effectively sealed it for the Wolves. Minnesota corralled the latter off the second of two missed free throws with 30.5 seconds remaining and a tenuous seven-point lead.
“I don’t care who’s coming back,” Boylen told reporters after the game. “I don’t care who’s been out, who’s working on a minute restriction. I didn’t think we were tough enough tonight. And I didn’t like it.”
Boylen cited the team’s 75% defensive rebound percentage , which though an improvement over last year in that he’s using a statistic more sophisticated than total rebounds, in true Boylen fashion (are they any closer to 35 assists per game?) didn’t make much sense. 75% is indeed a bad mark, that’s been around the same level it’s been all season. Just two games ago they were at 54% to the (friggin’) Knicks.
Defensive rebounding has been far from a ‘toughness’ problem but a systemic one all season. As pointed out by Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic and backed up by Thaddeus Young, the Bulls play a lot of short guys and use their bigs to blitz out on the perimeter. And here I thought Jim Boylen was proud of installing a style of play?
That’s a rhetorical question, the implied answer is Boylen is a goon. The Bulls play every other day for the next six games, so they’re not even going to be practicing, let alone go back to ‘Camp Boylen’. So it’s not clear what his plans are to mitigate this toughness problem that isn’t even a problem anyway.
Which brings us to the guy who is in lockstep with Jim Boylen, the retirement-thirsty John Paxson. There was a bit of rumor on this upcoming ‘change in voices’ in the front office this week, and it went pretty routinely: a person without much insight or knowledge (in this case, hairless hot-take artist David Kaplan) insisted something big was going to happen, and then KC Johnson doused it with cold water.
The rumor was that the Bulls were going to target Oklahoma City Thunder executive Sam Presti to take over basketball operations. What’s strange to me is that Kaplan was saying this 2 weeks ago and Brian Windhorst - whose insight you may have a varied opinion on, but he knows more than Kaplan (which is nothing) - shot it down back then. Windhorst said that all he’s heard is the Bulls are only looking at affordable first-time GMs, names like the one we’ve actually seen reported so far.
(Kaplan’s response then, paraphrased: “...ok, but what I presuppose is...maybe not?”. Then he bleats it out again weeks alter and it gets traction? Damn aggregators!!!! )
KC Johnson reiterated that notion:
the Bulls historically have not operated as a big-spending franchise when it comes to management. It would take upwards of $9 to $10 million to even get Presti to the negotiating table. The sniffing around I’ve done on this story leads me to believe that that’s not a route the Bulls plan to take.
There’s not only the money as a historical precedent for not believing the Bulls would go after Presti, but the lack of power: Johnson reiterated (for 17 years now?) that Paxson is still going to remain, and it is ‘obvious’ he’s leading the hiring process.
Johnson also said that the owner’s son is ‘surely’ thinking about Presti or the Raptors’ Masai Ujiri, but this is a laughable claim. It’s similar to how he reports on the Bulls going after superstar players: assuming they are doing it because it’s what any competent NBA team would do, but they’re not actually doing anything.
And it’s because the Bulls have a culture! Not one that means getting the best to be the best, but one off toughness or whatever bullshit. Thaddeus Young said as much just last night:
We have to play what we call Bulls basketball, which is being a hard-nosed team.
I don’t mean to slag Young for a well-meaning mindset, but more to show that this has come from John Paxson through his sycophant Jim Boylen to the team: the Bulls are not a championship-driven organization, but one that aims merely to play hard and provide decent value at a low expenditure.
Some hilarious tidbits from Johnson included that any new GM will be asked to ‘keep an open mind’ on Boylen, and that the coach has had a falling out with putting-the-’senior’-in-senior-advisor Doug Collins. Collins no longer sits in on practices. Which is odd, because Collins fits ‘Bulls Basketball’ as well, believing in toughness over stars.
But Bulls Basketball is also about something else: cravenly trying to keep the job that you should’ve never gotten in the first place and will never get again, and I think both Boylen and Collins are doing that here if there is truly any rift.
John Paxson, meanwhile, doesn’t have to worry. And until they actually prove it with action, we have to assume any Bulls change will be keeping with a Paxson-led mindset and effort. And in true Paxson fashion, it will aim low on both.