When it comes to physical play, Bulls' rookie Coby White won't back down

When it comes to physical play, Bulls' rookie Coby White won't back down

Any Bulls fan knows about Coby White’s speed. Anyone who has followed White's game knows about the rookie point guard’s hair.

At his best, his most dashing and daring, the former gift leads to the latter choice bobbing and flattening as he whooshes down the court, dribbling past defenders.

But there are quieter, slower moments when two other traits of White’s are standing out, noticed by teammates and coaches alike⁠—his physicality and maturity.

Listed at 6 feet, 5 inches and 185 pounds, White’s positional size has been cited by coach Jim Boylen before. But even the Bulls’ coach has been surprised by White’s refusal to back down from contact, a trait that forever can endear a player to Boylen and his football background.

“Since I’ve been in high school, I liked contact,” White said following Friday’s practice at the Advocate Center. “In high school, it’s how I played⁠—creating contact and getting to the rim. When I started my career in high school, I wasn’t really a shooter. I was a get downhill type of guy. Then I developed my shot. (Playing physical) is something I’m used to and been doing a long time.”

That White has matched up against teammates like Kris Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono has forced the rookie to play that style. And it has been an easy adjustment.

“Kris is super strong and super physical, gets the job done. If you don’t play physical against him, he’s going to take the ball from you,” White said. “So you gotta (play physical) too.”

Dunn, who called White a “really good player,” also noted the rookie’s ability to listen and learn. And this is where White’s maturity and leadership qualities already have flashed.

White may have just turned 19 in February. But Rob Salter, White’s coach for four varsity seasons at Greenfield School in Wilson, N.C., said in an interview shortly after the Bulls drafted White that he’s one of the most natural leaders he has coached.

This is why White sounds undaunted by balancing competing against the likes of Dunn, Arcidiacono and Tomas Satoransky even while also trying to unite them.

“I appreciate it a lot,” White said of the veterans’ advice. “I’m a newcomer. I’m a rookie and playing a harder position. They’re helping me a lot. They’re really stringing me along and I can’t be more thankful for that.

“I also feel I can form (chemistry) quickly just because of the type of person I am. I’m open to relationships and I try to talk to everyone and try to build relationships with my teammates because that’s a big factor to build team chemistry.”

Given Boylen’s multi ballhandler system, White could end up playing off the ball as much as on it. This, too, suits White fine⁠—as long as the Bulls play fast.

“The main thing that fits me is he wants to run,” White said of Boylen. “The faster I get down the court, the faster you get into your offensive possession. I love to run. Whether I got the ball in my hands or not, if you run and get in transition, it creates more scoring opportunities for you.

“We got a multi ballhandler system, so really (point guard) through (power forward) can bring it up. Whoever has it brings it up. Sometimes it’s me. Sometimes it’s KD. Sometimes it’s Zach (LaVine). Sometimes it’s Arch. It varies. I’m comfortable. I wasn’t a point guard all my life. When I was around middle school, I always played (shooting guard). I can shoot the ball well enough to play (shooting guard).”

That trait wasn’t on display in summer league, where White shot a grisly 3-for-30 from 3-point range. But White sounds undaunted by that experience and still confident he can contribute this season.

“He cares. He wants to be great. He knows what he has to improve upon,” Boylen said. “When I met with him before we drafted him I think that’s one thing that stuck out was he has spirit where he wanted to improve. He knows that he’s not a finished product. And there’s some beauty in that from a young guy like that.”

Boylen often talks about not only being in condition to run but possessing the commitment to do so. For a player who had the ball in his hands so often in his lone season at North Carolina, White has embraced filling the wing and sprinting the floor if another player brings up the ball.

“He’s been really good,” Boylen said. “I showed some (film) clips of him running off the ball when he was at Carolina. What I've been impressed with with Coby is his maturity level on the floor and how quickly he can kind of pick up things and grow. So I don't see that as an issue, his commitment to run off the ball. He's pretty damn good on the ball, too.”

In other Bulls news, Shaq Harrison tweaked a hamstring and sat out practice, as did Denzel Valentine, Wendell Carter Jr., Luke Kornet and Chandler Hutchison. Boylen gave a rest day to Valentine, who is returning from missing an entire season to ankle surgery but who will play in Saturday’s fan-friendly open scrimmage at the United Center.

Carter remains sidelined with a bruised tailbone, Kornet with turf toe and Hutchison, who did some running on the side, with a hamstring injury.

The Bulls will take Sunday off in advance of Monday’s preseason opener versus the Bucks. Boylen said he’d experiment with different lineups in the preseason and the team will pick captains Oct. 21.

With 2021 NBA Free Agency looming, Bulls fired Jim Boylen in the nick of time

With 2021 NBA Free Agency looming, Bulls fired Jim Boylen in the nick of time

In retrospect, we should have all seen it coming. On the final day of the NBA regular season, Arturas Karnisovas fired Bulls head coach Jim Boylen, ending a nearly two-year tenure that saw the team play to a 39-84 record.

“I thought the timing was right right now, going into the lottery and the draft process. It’s an official offseason for us. So we thought it was good timing,” Karnisovas said in a conference call Friday.

The seeding phase of the league’s restart ending Friday and the draft lottery six days ahead does provide a nice bit of symmetry. But was Aug. 14 too long to wait? Karnisovas officially accepted his position as executive vice president of basketball operations on April 13. He brought in new front office hires in Marc Eversley, J.J. Polk and Pat Connelly in early May. Yet Boylen’s tenure dragged into the dog days of summer.

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Why? Karnisovas addressed that on said conference call.

“I took my time for a reason. It was a process to make that decision. Over the last few months, since I was hired in April, I had no timeline,” he said. “This was the right time to make this change.”

“Since it was a very unique situation to be hired in April, we took our time. The restrictions were lifted a little bit more. Interaction was involved.”

That answer echoes Karnisovas’ reputation as a thoughtful and deliberate decision-maker. He’s also said in the past that, in his eyes, forming personal relationships is requisite to holding employees accountable — player or coach. Some will appreciate that approach applied in this context, especially given that he’s inheriting a franchise that has twice in the past has parted ways with coaches on Christmas Eve. Some may not.

But bottom line: The end result is the one the Bulls badly needed to reach, and just in the nick of time.


The cruciality of moving on from Boylen now is multi-layered. For one, there appears to be burbling optimism that the eight teams excluded from the NBA’s Disney World restart will find a way to resume basketball activities in some capacity soon. It may not be in a second bubble, but even organized OTAs with group activities would be a step up for a Bulls team that has been constrained to voluntary individual workouts with stringent protocols thus far. 

“The players now can work out individually in our practice facility, and our gym is pretty,” Karnisovas said on the call. “So while we’re waiting, if we can get any additional support from the league — again, overall the league regrets that we couldn’t get anything done until now. But I’m hopeful to get something soon.”

Starting the search “immediately” (in Karnisovas’ words) could have a new coach in the Advocate Center doors for all or some of those activities, should they come to fruition. Even if it doesn’t, the Bulls still have plenty of runway before the start of the 2020-21 campaign, which has yet to be finalized.

And in a big picture sense, getting fresh blood in the building has the potential to further a much-needed shift in the Bulls’ league wide perception that was catalyzed by its front office facelift months ago. 

Because this decision makes the organizational message clear: No half-measures. With a new executive vice president of basketball operations and general manager, burgeoning player development personnel, and soon a new coach — particularly, one that will replace a coach that lost games at a historic clip and often prompted questions about his player relationships — there are no caveats required to call this a new era of Bulls basketball; an era in which player development appears to be king, and mediocrity isn’t tolerated.

“The signal is that we’re changing things. It signals that we’re looking forward to what comes next,” Karnisovas said. “We just felt this program needed a change and needed a change now. And I can’t wait to find the next coach for this group.”

The looming free agency period of 2021 makes sending that signal now all the more important. Of course, firing Boylen doesn’t guarantee the Bulls Anthony Davis or Giannis Antetokounmpo. It might not even get them a meeting. 

For the time being, the Bulls are pretty much locked in place from a roster standpoint. Otto Porter Jr. opting in to his $28.5 million player option — which still qualifies as a near-certainty — and the cap hits the team’s first- and second-round draft choices will eventually invoke will cinch the Bulls in as an over-the-cap club for the 2020-21 season. 

So, the ship likely isn’t getting entirely righted overnight. Whatever your opinion of Boylen, some share of the blame for a 22-win season falls on the roster, as well. However talented you deem the Bulls’ core pieces, new leadership won’t vault them straight to title contention. 

But they don’t necessarily need to, at least not next season. The foundation has to start somewhere, and that summer of 2021 is where things get interesting. To steal a chart from myself, here’s what the Bulls books roughly look heading into that summer, as matters stand right now (via Spotrac): 

  2020-21 2021-22 2022-23 2023-24
Total Cap Allocations $106,027,707 $65,249,867 $9,344,636 $0
Signed Players 13 8 2 0

A possible Lauri Markkanen’s extension is pending, but partial guarantees on the third years of Tomas Satoransky and Thad Young’s contracts, as well as a team option on the third year of Ryan Arcidiacono’s, provides flexibility. Bottom line: They’ll be in a position to make major changes, possibly a splash — assuming the salary cap holds in the vicinity of its current $109.1 million status.

Which makes it all the more imperative that the 2020-21 season not play out as 2019-20 did. The Bulls are an attractive coaching job for the same reasons they were an attractive front office gig — young talent on the roster (albeit largely unproven), own all their own draft capital, cap space coming, big market, rabid fanbase — but to leverage all of that into being a desirable player destination, the soggy hunk of clay that is this rebuild needs to take shape. 

To follow in the footsteps of recent successful rebuilds — think Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers; big-market teams that parlayed modica of promising talent into scrappy overperformance on the court, and, in turn, big moves on the trade and free agent markets — the Bulls need to transform themselves into a team on the rise. 

That doesn’t have to mean a top-four seed or a first-round playoff victory from the jump. But it starts with maximizing the pieces on the team now and improving next season, so that, in the age or perpetual player movement, when opportunity comes knocking, they’ll be prepared to seize it. It’s evident by the results that Boylen wasn’t the person to foster such progression.

A coach with a specialization in player development and relationships — which Karnisvoas said will be a focal point in the search — will be a foundational step. What the changes necessary will look like specifically may have to wait until Karnisovas and Co. have a precise candidate in their sights. Fortunately, there’s just about nowhere to go but up.

For now, it’s at least refreshing to know the Bulls are on the right track.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Jim Boylen is out as Bulls head coach

Bulls Talk Podcast: Jim Boylen is out as Bulls head coach

Once the regular season ended, the official start of the offseason began and the Bulls' first move was to let Jim Boylen go. In an emergency edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, host Jason Goff is joined by Bulls insider K.C. Johnson and Bulls beat writer Rob Schaefer as they discuss the decision.

(1:30) - What led Arturas Karnisovas to the decision to let go, Jim Boylen

(6:00) - Arturas Karnisovas on having full power to make decisions

(16:30) - Potential candidates to replace Jim Boylen

(25:20) - How can a coach get the best out of the current Bulls roster

Listen here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast


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