Bulls

Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls' season

usatsi_13914568.jpg
USA Today

Jim Boylen standing firm at moment of reckoning in Bulls' season

It’s no secret that the Bulls’ season hangs in the balance. At 17-30, the team is at once three games out of a playoff spot and slated ninth in the current lottery standings. 

To hear head coach Jim Boylen and co. tell it, a playoff berth remains the more desirable of those two timelines. But according to Basketball Reference, the Bulls have the third most difficult remaining strength of schedule in the East. And worse, they’ll have to face the (immediate) future without Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Daniel Gafford.

The loss of Markkanen — the most recent of that group to go down — has tipping point potential. In the Bulls’ first game without him, they mustered just 81 points at home against a swooning Sacramento Kings squad, shooting 8-for-37 from 3-point range in the process. The team’s need for secondary scoring outside of Zach LaVine glared

But, as Boylen has maintained all season, the Bulls are not going to change the way they play. They just need to play better.

“We gotta play faster, we gotta move the ball. I thought we had a couple possessions where the ball stuck. The ball can’t stick. We gotta move it, we gotta drive it,” Boylen said of the loss to the Kings before the Bulls’ Saturday night matchup with the Cavaliers in Cleveland. “I also think we missed some opportunities that we need to make.

“Our margin for error is not great. We have to make the plays we can make and make the shots we can make.”

For now, at least, the starting lineup won’t change (sorry #StartCoby crowd) — though Boylen said he’ll keep his rotation fluid. As for outside reinforcements being brought in?

“We have not talked about that. Doesn’t mean we won’t,” Boylen said when asked if the Bulls could actually pivot to ‘buying’ at the trade deadline, given their relative proximity to a playoff spot. “We’re in the middle of a really tough stretch of games, and a lot of games, so my focus has been on that.

“I love the guys we have,” he added. “And we’re gonna keep coaching and teaching the guys we have. I’ve got a good group, a coachable group.”

Absent from those adjectives was ‘interchangeable’ but that word has been ever-present in Boylen’s vocabulary through the ups and downs of this season. In his first full year at the helm, his primary goal remains clear.

“Because we’re establishing this system,” Boylen said when asked why, through thick and thin, the team’s playing style hasn’t changed, as it did last season after Boylen was hired. “Last year, we were tearing it down and then establishing it. Now we’re gonna keep establishing it.”

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Cleveland Cavaliers will look to salvage stilted rebuild when NBA resumes

Cleveland Cavaliers will look to salvage stilted rebuild when NBA resumes

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we'll be examining the impact of the NBA's current on hiatus on each team in the league. Today, the Cleveland Cavaliers — whose rebuild suffered through a stilted season — are up.

Past installments: Chicago Bulls | Golden State Warriors

The Cleveland Cavaliers decided on a bold change of direction last spring when they hired highly-successful college coach John Beilein for his first NBA coaching job at the age of 66.

But Beilein almost immediately clashed with many of his veteran players who complained about his “college-style” coaching that included lengthy practice and film sessions. Later, Beilein was alleged to have used the term “thugs” in a speech to the team, which he attempted to explain away as meaning to have said “slugs” in regard to the players' effort and energy level.

From that point on, it was only a matter of time before Beilein would have to be replaced as head coach since most of the players had completely tuned him out. Beilein resigned on Feb. 19, walking away from the four-plus years remaining on his contract. The Cavaliers tapped assistant J.B. Bickerstaff to replace Beilein, eventually signing him to a multi-year extension. The Cavs had a 19-46 record at the time the NBA schedule was suspended, worst in the Eastern Conference.

Player Development

Beilein was hired to develop the talent for one of the league’s youngest teams that included three first round picks from the 2019 draft: Darius Garland, Kevin Porter Jr. and Dylan Windler.

But from the start of the season, it was clear that pairing Garland with 2018 lottery pick Collin Sexton wasn’t a good idea. Both young point guards needed the ball in their hands to be successful, and Garland struggled as the de facto shooting guard, averaging 12.3 points a game on 40.1% shooting from the field (though he did shoot a respectable 35.5% from 3 point range). Sexton wound up leading the Cavs in scoring at 20.8 points per game while shooting 47.3% from the field and 38% from long distance. But the second year guard never developed as a facilitator in the offense, averaging just three assists over 33 minutes per game. His ball-dominant style appeared to frustrate many of his teammates.

Porter showed potential as a slashing wing, averaging 10 points in 23.2 minutes per game, while Windler missed all of his rookie season because of injury. Cedi Osman, 24 years old, failed to take hold of the starting small forward job, averaging 11 points per game, while the team gave up on combo guard Jordan Clarkson, trading him to Utah just before Christmas for underwhelming former lottery pick Dante Exum. Clarkson immediately thrived as a high-scoring sixth man with the Jazz, while Exum struggled to find a role in Cleveland, averaging 5.6 points and 1.4 assists in 24 games.

Roster Decisions

It seems like the Cavs have been trying to trade Kevin Love ever since he agreed to a multi-year contract after LeBron James left in the summer of 2018. Love was rumored to be available before this year’s trade deadline, but few teams were interested in taking on the three years and $90 million remaining on the contract of a 31-year-old power forward with a lengthy injury history.

The Cavs will also most likely have veteran center Andre Drummond back next season. Drummond holds a $28.7 million player option for 2020-21, and its hard to imagine another team offering a max-level multi year contract for a low post center whose skills don’t really translate to the modern NBA game.

Depending on how the lottery shakes out, the Cavs could have a top three pick in this year’s draft, and they could go in a variety of directions. Dayton star Obi Toppin and Israeli forward Deni Avdija present possibilities to bolster their frontcourt. Cleveland could also go for the top shooting guard available, Georgia’s Anthony Edwards.

Outlook

After the Beilein experiment failed so quickly, general manager Koby Altman will be under enormous pressure to get the rebuild back on track this offseason. It won’t be easy to find a trade partner for either Drummond or Love, and it appears the Cavs won’t be able to move forward starting a pair of undersized point guards in Sexton and Garland. Plus, Exum has one year left on his contract at $9.6 million.

Bickerstaff is anxious to put his stamp on the team after replacing Beilein following the All-Star break. It’s the third time in Bickerstaff’s coaching career he’s taken over an NBA team during the season, and he’s hoping to be given some time to get through the painful early stages of a complete rebuild. Unfortunately for the Cavs, there isn’t a superstar player like Luka Doncic or Zion Williamson in this year’s draft, and LeBron isn’t walking back through that door for a third stint in Northeast Ohio.

Better keep that 2016 NBA championship trophy nice and shiny while asking the fans to be patient once again.

Check back in Monday for a breakdown of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Gold medalist Ryan Held reps Bulls at the Olympics

usatsi_9433413.jpg
USA Today

Bulls Talk Podcast: Gold medalist Ryan Held reps Bulls at the Olympics

Filling in for Host Jason Goff, Leila Rahimi talks with Olympic swimmer and gold medalist Ryan Held who at a swim meet donned a Ryan Arcidiacono rookie jersey. He goes into his fandom of the Bulls, why he chose Ryan Arcidiacono as his favorite current Bull, and responses he got from Bulls fans around the world.

(1:02) - Why he chose to rep the Bulls on an international platform

(6:16) - When did Ryan Held's Bulls fandom start

(12:05) - His favorite Bulls players to watch

(15:14) - Finding time for the Bulls with a swimming schedule

(18:50) - Advice to fellow athletes during this pause in sports

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.