By Drew Stevens (@hismindonpaper)
Not much can be gleamed yet from the reign of new Chicago Bulls Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas, but it seems clear he works on his own schedule.
So resigned was I to AK’s deliberative process in deciding the ultimate fate of the woefully over-his-head and now former Bulls head coach Jim Boylen, a process that was seemingly extending into the next calendar year, that Friday’s news of Boylen’s dismissal was as astounding as it was pleasing to a widely grouchy fanbase of Bulls fans.
At the risk of toppling over in my chair and getting a deserved razzing from my co-workers, I slid forward in my chair with my mouth fully agape as I read about Karnisovas ending months worth of speculation and plotting a presumably less bumpy course for the franchise in casting the oft-lampooned Boylen by the wayside with his time clock in tow.
In the rear view, too, is the excuse of playing for a bungling coach who owns the second-worst winning percentage in team history, maintained a choppy relationship with his players and whose blue-collar brand of quirkiness — Boylen often called timeouts in the closing moments of games that were already decided and infamously installed an old-school time clock in the Bulls’ practice facility in October to better keep track of when players were punching in and out of work — is probably better suited for the collegiate ranks from which he came.
With the perceived hindrance to player development and team success now discarded at the coaching level, the stakes have been raised as high as the United Center rafters for a team whose players are still under appraisal and include few cut from the hybrid cloth of which Karnisovas helped fashion the Denver Nuggets during his tenure as a front-office executive in the Mile High City.
“Obviously, I like high pace. Moving the ball,” said Karnisovas at his introductory press conference back in April. In his last position as general manager in Denver, Karnisovas built one of the most admired rosters currently in the NBA, including all-NBA first teamer Nikola Jokic, stud point guard Jamal Murray and NBA all-Bubble second team forward Michael Porter Jr.
“We were able to be a very good passing team in Denver. It’s a very entertaining brand of basketball. I like multi-positional players. I like guys with high-basketball IQ that play off each other.”
With that in mind, Boylen, who complied a 39-84 record across two seasons, was an obvious domino to fall in AK’s restructuring of management in Chicago. Surely, he won’t be the last to fall either.
The tip-off of the 2020-2021 season — whether it takes place inside a bubble, or coincides with the upcoming holiday season or both — will activate a much different time clock than the one hung in the Advocate Center as individual improvement and overall fit are weighed just as heavily as wins and losses.
While key players Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Kris Dunn, Otto Porter Jr., and Chandler Hutchison have all missed significant time in each of the past two seasons, only so many concessions can continue to be made for injury or the failings of a former coach to cultivate wholesale player development.
Most notable is Markkanen, whose production shrunk back toward his rookie output. The third-year forward-center, who played in 50 of a possible 65 games and averaged 14.7 points in 29.8 minutes on the floor, will enter the final year of his rookie deal next season and would be a restricted free agent in 2021.
With a new-fangled off-season just around the corner, whoever Karnisovas and also newly-hired general manager Marc Eversley choose as Boylen’s replacement will likely be asked to cook with the same ingredients that resulted in the bitter taste of exclusion from the NBAs restart and a third consecutive absence from post-season contention.
Whether it be rumored candidates Kenny Atkinson, Ime Udoka, Wes Unseld Jr., Adrian Griffin, or Darvin Ham, it’s imperative that the Bulls’ next head coach extract every ounce of potential from an undeniably talented, yet still largely unproven, core of players.
A duty which, among others, proved too difficult for the former coach.
Drew Stevens is a writer based in Chicago