The Bulls believe in Jim Boylen.
If there was one significant takeaway from John Paxson’s 35-minute exit interview Thursday at the Advocate Center, it’s that he and the Reinsdorfs are fully on board with Boylen leading the Bulls forward into the critical years of their post-Jimmy Butler rebuild.
Paxson went as far as saying it’s “very possible” the Bulls will extend the contract of Boylen, who took over for Fred Hoiberg in December and received a raise through the 2020 season.
“I’ve spoken to both Jerry and Michael about addressing that,” Paxson said of a potential contract extension, “and I don’t know what the timing will be, but I envision Jim being our coach here and us committing to him.”
Boylen inherited a mess when he took over for Hoiberg on Dec. 3, tasked with leading a 5-19 team that was missing its foundation piece in Lauri Markkanen, as well as two top rotation players in Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis. More important than wins and losses, Paxson discussed wanting Boylen to change the attitude, practice habits and overall culture that had been trending in the wrong direction under Hoiberg.
Chaos ensued almost instantly, with a few Bulls leading a near-mutiny against Boylen after the head coach called for practice following a back-to-back weekend set. Paxson admitted Thursday that Boylen’s turbulent first week, which also included a franchise-worst 56-point home loss to the Celtics, “was like dynamite blowing up.”
But Boylen righted the ship and instilled the values that Paxson and upper management were looking for. It coincided with the Bulls getting healthier, but they closed out Boylen’s first month with a 4-3 record, including wins over eventual playoff teams in San Antonio and Orlando.
Boylen eventually toned down the suicide runs, two-and-a-half hour practices and pushups. But he continued on with his tough-love and forthcoming personality that endeared him to the front office. When injuries decimated the Bulls’ depth, that approach helped the Bulls get everything they could out of end-of-the-bench players like Shaq Harrison, Ryan Arcidiacono, Wayne Selden and other.
He was genuine to a fault in discussing his passion for his players – spirit and soul and all those other buzz words – and in Paxson’s eyes, that dedication.
“The thing that excites me about our direction with our head coach is his passion and his care level for our players and this organization,” Paxson said. “He wants to succeed, he wants our players to get better, he has a plan in place for all of them in order to do so and that’s very encouraging.”
Passion, spirit and “preparing the child for the road, not the road for the child” – a quote from Boylen on Feb. 23 – is one thing, but he’ll need to start improving the team, too.
Injuries were certainly a part of Boylen’s first season but numbers don’t lie: After he took over, the Bulls were 28th in offensive efficieney, 27th in defensive efficiency an 27th in net rating. Just about all their numbers under Boylen were worse than they were under Hoiberg, and that was with a better crop of players the majority of the season.
But Boylen, Paxson said, has shown a commitment to leading and improving his young group. It began on Thursday with player exit interviews that Paxson called “as efficient…as I’ve (ever) seen” with consistent messages about what will be expected of each player.
“He’s laid it all out there for each guy, exactly what he thinks they need to work on. It’s been done in a very positive way in terms of showing that he believes in them and wants them to get better,” Paxson said. “We’re at a really good place with our head coach in terms of the direction we’re headed.”
Paxson also said he has communicated with Boylen more during the past five months than he did with any other previous head coaches combined. That’s led to a general understanding of that demanding head coaching style that at times came under fire, but one that Paxson believes is a critical factor to the success of the Bulls’ young roster.
“He really does view himself as a teacher, a guy that wants to connect with the players, “Paxson said. “And sometimes you have to be demanding and hard, and I still believe that you can demand as a head coach as long as you’re showing these guys that you’re doing it because you care about them and you want them to succeed.
“Jim Boylen, in our estimation, has done terrific things in terms of establishing what we want in this building and with this organization, especially on the practice floor, how to carry yourself and how to work.”