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Bulls’ offseason bet: Shorting Jim Boylen

Former Bulls coach Jim Boylen

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 13: Head coach Jim Boylen of the Chicago Bulls reacts during a game giants the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 13, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Jim Boylen nearly incited a mutiny in his first week as Bulls head coach. It didn’t get much better from there. His players continued to loathe him. Ill-timed timeouts were his signature move. Chicago won just 32% of its games under his watch.

The Bulls didn’t outright declare Boylen to be their main problem.

But they somewhat acted as if he were.

Chicago fired Boylen, hired Billy Donovan and returned players who accounted for 89% of the Bulls’ minutes last season. That’s historic roster continuity for a team that went just 22-43.

Here are the teams that won less than 35% of their games then returned the highest proportion of minutes:

pbt bulls offseason grade

Only the 1987 Knicks – who went 24-58 then returned players who accounted 91% of minutes – matched the Bulls’ combination of poor record and high continuity. New York fired Hubie Brown, hired Rick Pitino and improved into the playoffs then second round over the next two years.

The Bulls will hope for similar progress under Donovan, a Pitino disciple.

Donovan, who came from the Thunder, is a solid NBA coach. But this is more about dropping Boylen. Donovan is closer to the median NBA head coach (from above) than Boylen was (from below).

That said, Boylen significantly improved from his rough start. (He had to.) Boylen’s overly aggressive defense was a liability against good teams, but it effectively confounded bad teams. Chicago’s offense produced plenty of shots at the rim and a decent number of 3-pointers.

If the coaching change will significantly improve the Bulls next season, it will be through higher morale and better skill development. Those are not small considerations. But it’s not as if Boylen were still running the post-up-heavy slow-down offense and five-player substitutions he used early.

Donovan could have a bigger long-term effect as he gets Chicago to play soundly without exploitable risks like excessive trapping.

With an eye on the long term, the Bulls drafted Patrick Williams No. 4. Williams ranked just No. 16 on my board. But I acknowledge that he rose so much during the private pre-draft process – which occurred well after Florida State’s season ended – it’s quite possible the 19-year-old warranted going this high. Williams had the length, athleticism, skill and youth to make a jump.

Chicago somewhat surprisingly didn’t extend qualifying offers for Kris Dunn and Shaquille Harrison and very surprisingly extended one to Denzel Valentine. Valentine spared no time accepting his. Dunn (Hawks) and Harrison (Jazz) left in free agency. Both players are somewhat intriguing.

Garrett Temple is not. Chicago’s lone outside free-agent signing with a guaranteed salary, Temple got $5 million for one year. The 34-year-old is an established professional who can play all three perimeter positions, but there’s nothing dynamic about his game. He’s a steadying force – however much value that holds on this team.

New general manager Arturas Karnisovas didn’t make much of an impression in his first offseason as a lead executive. Williams was the big acquisition and will serve as an early test of Karnisovas’ talent evaluation. The Bulls are mostly just hoping Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter look better sans Boylen.

Grasping for clues on Karnisovas’ ability to run a front office: He convinced ownership/management to fire Boylen despite initial desire and financial incentive to keep the coach. Karnisovas even got the upper brass to spend on an established replacement in Donovan.

That’s slightly encouraging, but not enough view Chicago’s short-term or long-term outlooks significantly differently. Add a high draft pick I didn’t love (though could be wrong on) and coaching upgrade, and the needle lands where it started.

Offseason grade: C