Bulls

Top-seeded Bulls not done yet

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Top-seeded Bulls not done yet

Sunday, April 10, 2011
Posted: 10:02 a.m.

By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

ORLANDOTheyre not done yet. Typically, a team thats locked into the top seed in the postseasonlet alone a team just guarantee of making the playoffs, periodwould go into shutdown mode now, with just three games left in the regular season. Not the Chicago Bulls.

Its a goal that we quietly had, said Carlos Boozer, adding, We have other goals, too. But were not done with the Spurs.

One game behind league-leading San Antonio in the loss column for the NBAs best overall record and home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs, the Bulls plan to continue to go full throttle Saturday against the Magic, as well as for the foreseeable regular-season future, according to Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.

Were just looking at the next game, explained the NBAs Coach of the Year award candidate. We want to stay consistent with what were doing.

You want them to be in rhythm and you want everyone playing their best. As the season winds down, the two things youre focused on is you want to be playing your best basketball and you want to be healthy, so if someones injured, well sit them down. If theyre not injured, theyre going to play, continued Thibodeau, who prepared just as seriously for Saturdays opponent, Orlandomissing All-Star center Dwight Howard, who was suspended for incurring his 18th technical foul of the seasonas he did for last Thursdays big win over the Celtics or last Fridays top-seed-clinching victory over the Cavaliers.

"The teams Ive been with, thats the way weve always approached it. You look at your team, you look at the make-up of your team and you determine how to pace your team. Thats one of the biggest things you have to think about all year long and you also do that when youre planning for your season.

Youre looking at can a guy handle minutes? Are they young? Are they old? Are they coming off injury? You look at all those things and then you look at how your teams functioning and playing. Sometimes you may feel that rest is more important, so you may not practice, but you have a film session, a meeting and a walk-through.

Or, as Joakim Noah put it, This is a dictatorship, guys.

All jokes aside, the Bulls dont chafe at Thibodeaus hard-driving ways because not only do they respect his decisions, but they actually want to play.

I really havent thought about it. If anything, I thought I was playing, so Im not disappointed or anything, said All-Star point guard Derrick Rose, in his usual, understated manner. Well have to see. Of course I want to play. Its not up to me. Its up to Coach.

Thats fine with me.

That mentality is what got them to this pointEastern Conference regular-season champions, a meaningless title if they dont augment it with a strong postseason showingbut if all goes according to plan, this is just another item on their checklist.

Thats the last goal of the regular season. We had a lot of goals. Weve checked off a lot of them, but thats the last one, said Kyle Korver. We had a lot to prove and I think weve worked really hard, weve put a lot into it and to be rewarded with this is big for us.

Were still going to try to catch the Spurs and were not done yet, but I think it speaks a lot about this team and the year that weve had.

Still, for the Bulls who were here for the past regime, they do feel a sense of accomplishment that stems from past mediocrity.

This is the best season Ive had in the NBA with the team and Im just proud that Im still here, and for the Chicago Bulls organization, said Luol Deng, the longest-tenured player on the team. Im a big believer that everything happens for a reason. I never want to go through struggles, so its all about how youre handling how youre coming out of those struggles. Thats what all makes it worth it and I believe Ive matured a lot as a man from what Ive seen and what I went through.

We want to be the best. We believe were capable of it, we put in work to try to be here and going into the postseason, thats going to be in the back of our minds.

Added Noahwho concurred with Thibodeaus sentiment that his right ankle is fine; I feel like Ive got a ways to go, but it feels good to be playing, he said after Fridays winabout the teams improvement: The growth has been formidable. Last year, we qualified on the last day and today, we are the No. 1 seed. That feels pretty good.

The 22-year-old Rose, in the midst of likely an MVP season, sounded determined to stay the course.

Weve got to keep playing good basketball and keep trying to get better, said the Chicago native. I know its definitely going to be different because everybodys going to be expecting us to win, but I think Thibs will have us ready for it.

It has something to do with the coaching staff. Thibs, man. Coach of the Year to me. Hes just been on us, holding everybody accountable every time we step on the court and with him, weve just been balling. Making sure that we go over everything and our preparation for the game is important, he continued. We took everybody by surprise. Thats from us winning games. It happened with the way that were playing under Thibs system. Its all because of him, giving us the opportunity to go out there and play. I think that were well-coached, but we can always get better.

While the first-year head coach and his staff have obviously been key to the teams success, its chemistry has also played a huge role.

In the beginning of the season, I told people that I thought we were going to be ready to play and thats what we showed this year. Were trying to keep playing, trying to stay humble, stay positive. Just trying to keep this thing going. Our fans have been great, traveling with us everywhere. Just bringing Chicago back, Rose explained.

We knew the guys that we were getting were guys that wanted to win. Thats what I always tell people. They dont care about their stats or anything. They just want to win games and its hard to be on a team like that, especially in the NBAwhere people have their own agenda, people have things going onbut were a very close team. We go out, anywhere to eat, whatever, theres five or six going out eating. Always calling each other, texting each other, BBMing texting via BlackBerry Messenger each other. Were pretty close on this team.

Communication, trusting each other and having confidence with each other, he went on to say. When youre on the court, the game is intense, even though it sounds like were yelling at each other sometimes, its nothing negative. Its just that were trying to win the game.

Whatever the formula, these Bulls need to stick to it. Who is anybody to doubt them at this point?

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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.

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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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