While soliciting questions for this week’s mailbag on Twitter, I asked for angst. You delivered angst — lots and lots of angst. You had questions about firings, players underperforming and, with one four-question pile-on, skepticism regarding the coaching performance.
Q: The Sun-Times reported that Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf is upset about how this season is going and that he and senior adviser Doug Collins are growing increasingly dissatisfied with general manager Gar Forman, whose job security is “crumbling.” Would firing Forman solve the issues plaguing the team, which seem fairly widespread? - Dave A., Chicago
A: Ownership signed off on trading Jimmy Butler and beginning the rebuild and, like management and coach Jim Boylen, is publicly on record that this season would show improvement. So, yes, ownership, just like management, the coaches and players, is very upset with the poor start. In recent internal discussions, Reinsdorf did emphasize urgency to fix things. That said, a source emphasized that nobody’s job is in imminent jeopardy, including Forman’s. Remember: Executive vice president John Paxson reclaimed his more central role as the face of the franchise and lead decision-maker with the Butler trade. Forman’s power within the organization isn’t what it once was, though ownership still values his scouting and negotiating ability.
The sense around the organization is that’s too early to panic but not too early to be upset. There’s still internal belief that if players start making open shots, a soft Eastern Conference playoff picture could be crashed. That said, the roster improvements haven’t borne fruit in terms of the won-lost record, and players haven’t performed to expectations. Internal concerns about some players’ mental and physical toughness remain. As of now, nobody is being singled out but everyone — management, coaches, players — is under the microscope.
Ownership has overseen a gradual evolution of the front office. Collins came on board. The analytics department expanded. And though it’s still small by league standards, additions like former assistant coach Mike Wilhelm have been made. Brian Hagen has more duties. Ownership will continue to evaluate and possibly evolve the front office further. There is still great confidence in and respect for Paxson, who is the lead decision maker. Whether any changes are made at season’s end will obviously depend on how the remainder of the season transpires.
Q: How many more embarrassing nights until Jim Boylen is under pressure? It should be clear by now that our roster is pretty good, our assistants are also good but his decisions, especially on defense with the blitzing scheme, are dragging us down. Is the intention of the front office to keep him until the end of the season no matter what? - Stavros S.
Q: I was just wondering, as a lot of Bulls fans are, has Boylen moved any closer to the proverbial "hot seat?" Last anything was mentioned about his relationship with the front office, Boylen talked about how well he was getting along with management. But with a start to the season this bad, has there been any talk about his job being in jeopardy? As fans we'd love to see accountability on some level, and instead all we have is a 6-12 start to the season and no answers from management or ownership. Looking like a long and cold winter for Bulls fans with very little hope on the horizon. - J. Boa
Q: How much longer can this go on before something changes? There seems to be pretty clear evidence at this point that Boylen is not working and there need to be major changes in coaching and management. Are we really going to be with the same coach and GM next year? – Tim G.
Q: I've tried to refrain from Boylen-bashing. But during the Portland game, I thought he was outmaneuvered by Terry Stotts at every turn. They had a plan every time down the court and swatted away adjustments from Boylen like they were playing a JV team. You've said repeatedly that this coach is "more aligned" with management than you've ever seen, but do you see any cracks in that? Also: would ownership allow GarPax to hire yet another coach? – Alejandro Y.
A: What has been reported multiple times but sometimes gets forgotten is that it wasn’t just management that believed in Boylen but ownership. Everyone was on board to extend Boylen for three seasons, albeit at an annual salary that’s on the low end of NBA coaches. So it’s not prohibitive if the Bulls ever want to move off Boylen’s money, although I’ve heard no inkling of that this early into his extension. Remember: The Bulls are still paying Fred Hoiberg this season as well.
Paxson has talked publicly numerous times about Boylen’s care factor, teaching of fundamentals in practice and ability to hold players accountable. That’s the culture template Paxson desires. As for the schematic stuff, Boylen talks about establishing a style of play at both ends. Unfortunately for the Bulls, neither side is producing results for now. Collins offers plenty of input. I’d have to believe that if the systems Boylen is trying to establish at both ends continue to struggle, Paxson and Collins would suggest changes.
For instance, Boylen talks about the open shots the Bulls get and how players are underperforming based on their career percentages. For some of the bigger names on the roster, this is true. But there’s a reason why Kris Dunn is wide open on 3-pointers. So even if Dunn is taking what Boylen calls a good shot because it’s open, is that a good thing? Dunn is a career 30.7 percent shooter from 3-point range.
Similarly, while the Bulls have either led or hung near the top of the league in forced turnovers and points off turnovers all season, is the high-risk, high-reward defensive scheme worth it if the Bulls end up in scramble mode so often? They often get beat on the boards because they’re out of rebounding position and also rank near the top of the league in allowing open shots. As of Tuesday night, the Bulls ranked 15th in defensive rating.
What’s your best guess why Bulls ownership sticks with John Paxson running the show? What’s the Bulls’ won/loss record since he took over? La Beets, via Twitter
Since succeeding Jerry Krause in April 2003, Paxson has compiled a 668-646 regular-season record. The Bulls have made the playoffs 11 times in his 16 full seasons, winning five series and advancing to one conference finals. Management has hired five coaches in this span.
As for ownership’s belief, Jerry Reinsdorf is famously loyal and told Paxson he had been interviewing him for years without Paxson knowing it when he tabbed Paxson to replace Krause. He respects Paxson’s toughness, competitiveness and commitment to the organization. He and his son, Michael, think Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have drafted well and constructed two separate rosters that produced winning basketball — the Scott Skiles-coached teams centered on Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrich and the Tom Thibodeau-coached teams centered around Deng, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. This is why ownership signed off on the current rebuild. It believed in management’s ability to construct a roster from the ground up. That’s also why this season is so disappointing. This was supposed to be the season that progress manifested itself in the won-loss record. To this point, that hasn’t happened.
We criticize Boylen for the Bulls performance this season, the rotations, schemes, etc. How much criticism should be given to Chris Fleming and Roy Rogers as the "offensive" and "defensive" coordinators? I'd have to image those two have a reasonable influence on Boylen and his decision-making? If all of us on Twitter can see what's going wrong with the rotations, and schemes, surely those two are seeing it and should be providing suggestions or adjustments to Boylen? Or is Boylen just a coach who shuts those two out and it's his way? Curious to hear how their relationship is with the head coach. – Tyler P.
I’m in the early stages of forming relationships with Fleming and Rogers myself, so I can’t claim to be an expert on how much influence they have. Of course they have input. And Fleming in particular carried a strong, leaguewide reputation for his offensive creativity. What I do know is that any head coach has final say and only acts on the assistants’ suggestions with which he agrees. For instance, anyone around the team knew that Boylen didn’t always agree with Fred Hoiberg’s handling of players. But he supported his head coach because that’s the assistant’s job. I also know that Boylen compliments both Fleming and Rogers often. So I’m sure he values their input and their relationships are strong. He recommended their hirings. The thing about failure with any team sport is that it’s a shared entity.
Will the major pieces on this roster be here at season’s end? – Andrew H.
For now, the plan is to ride it out with the current players and coaches. Remember, this team became the trendy pick to make the playoffs from several prognosticators following offseason moves that were widely praised. If this poor play continues, everything has to be considered.
How does Michael Reinsdorf feel about Boylen throwing players under the bus? – Chicago Jon, via Twitter
I don’t know what Reinsdorf’s reaction was, but I do know there was some support for LaVine’s take that he was unfairly singled out. Pulling LaVine solo in that instance was a bad look.
Is there a reason Wendell Carter Jr. won’t shoot wide open mid-range shots? Are the coaches telling him not to? He seems so reluctant to do it, and his above average jump shot was one of his selling points coming out of school. His ability to moderately stretch the defense was supposed to open driving lines and keep defenders honest if he pops for a shot or looks for a pass, but his unwillingness to even think about shooting causes the defense to collapse into the paint. Teams simply know he won’t shoot. Can you shed any light on this? – Patrick S.
Remember those Al Horford comps? Sigh.
The Bulls average 6.8 midrange shots per game, the third-fewest in the league. So there’s that. As for Carter, Boylen was asked that this week and Boylen said he wants any player to take open, good shots. There is definitely an emphasis on 3-pointers or shots at the rim in this offense. Carter said that emphasis hasn’t affected him and that he’s just trying to make the right play. You’re right, though: The right play at times would be for him to rise up without hesitation and shoot it.
I’m writing to you as a 27-year-old Bulls fan who was a ballboy when the Bulls used to trot out Ron Mercer, Corey Benjamin and Dalibor Bagaric. I believe this team has some talent but I disagree on the schemes and the talent evaluators. My question to you is what did they see in Chandler Hutchison? This is a first-round pick who can’t even crack the lineup with Otto Porter Jr. out with an injury. My second question is why can’t we throw the ball to Lauri Markkanen in the post? I think they need to get creative and watch what the Mavericks do with Kristaps Porzingis or what the Grizzlies do with Jaren Jackson Jr. That’s all. Have a great day. – Tyler B.
Anyone who endured that era gets two questions.
It’s too early to definitively judge Hutchison, although the early returns are underwhelming. Particularly since he is developing an injury prone label. The Bulls scouted him early and valued his athleticism and versatility and ability to guard multiple positions because of his positional size and length. However, he was a four-year player at a non-blue-chip program. And while he has showed flashes of defensive and rebounding ability, not to mention dunking prowess, it’s all been in flashes.
As for Markkanen’s usage, the Bulls need to try something to get him on the move or at the rim more often than just launching 3-pointers. Zach LaVine himself advocated for Markkanen to post up more, something he did in the season opener at Charlotte when he went for 35 points and 17 rebounds.
I want to travel to Chicago for All-Star weekend, but I would only bite the bullet if Zach LaVine was in the All-Star game (although dunk contest would be an exciting night). Do I reserve my ticket now or do you believe Zach won't be an East All-Star? - Devin M.
Count me in the camp that truly believed LaVine would make that game this season. He had similar stats to Kemba Walker last season and Walker got that hometown bump to make it as a reserve. LaVine also played in training camp and the preseason with an edge and focus that seemed to scream, “This is my time.” But it hasn’t played out that way yet this season. My advice would be to catch the weekend on TV. LaVine versus Zion or Aaron Gordon in the dunk contest could be fun.
Why do the Bulls switch so much? – Theodore M.
When is Boylen going to realize that his hard blitz PnR defensive scheme is easily picked apart by the opponent? - Derek B., via Twitter
Well, you have to guard the pick-and-roll with some strategy. These two questions represent two of the options. And the Trail Blazers in particular exposed how much the Bulls are struggling with both. On the blitz, the Bulls’ big man is so high up on the floor that he has a lot of ground to cover to rejoin the play and/or get in rebounding position. On the switch, the Bulls don’t have a ton of veteran, experienced players and communication sometimes lacks. So they either flub the switch or, in the Trail Blazers’ game, Damian Lillard just picked apart the defense to find the mismatch. Often, that was Carmelo Anthony, isolated in the midpost, hitting the midrange jumper he’ll probably be able to sink until he’s 60.
What is your prediction on who the Bulls will draft at No. 7? - PM Blue, via Twitter
After all this angst, it’s never a bad idea to laugh.
Thanks for all your questions. Talk to you soon.
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