Shock and Awful: The Chicago Bulls struggle with change


I find change to be exhausting.

I’m naturally a creature of routine. I’m at my best after a half-a-pot of coffee and six hours of sleep (not in that order). I can’t imagine what the typical life of a professional athlete entails. But what I do know is that change is exhausting.

This past week has been nothing but change for the Chicago Bulls. Fred Hoiberg fired. Jim Boylen elevated. Hours of running in practice. An exhilarating victory. The worst defeat in franchise history. The threat of more running. Mutiny. Meetings. Mediation. Reconciliation? Another loss. It’s been exhausting just as a fan, I can’t imagine what it’s like for the players, coaches, and management involved.

After the first game the Boylen Bulls played, the 96-90 loss to the Indiana Pacers 50 years ago last Tuesday, it was painfully obvious that the Bulls were not in good enough condition to play a complete game of BoyBall. They couldn’t execute their offense and keep up the breakneck pace Boylen demanded of them on defense. It resulted in the game slipping away from the Bulls in the second half.

Boylen’s response to the need for conditioning was to run his team into the ground.

It was an old school, meat-head, coaching tactic that didn’t sit well with the players. There are better ways of getting into the right basketball condition than wind sprints and suicides. Those types of drills carry the negative connotation of being punishments for poor behavior or play. I understand why players like Zach LaVine, who is probably in the best condition on the team and has had to carry a disproportionate amount of the offense due to his teammates injuries, might feel angry and frustrated with the new practice regimen.

Guys like LaVine, Justin Holiday, and Ryan Arcidiacono have been busting their asses off all season trying to keep the Bulls in games. Even Jabari Parker has been working to improve his condition and production. The old school coaching mentality of “you’re not doing enough until I say you’re doing enough” isn’t going to fly with a rag-tag group of players that have been overachieving since the beginning of the season.

And that last sentence points to the heart of the problem. The Bulls have been overachieving. Even with a 6-22 record, the Bulls have been overachieving. The talent on this team is not what management promised us it would be. It’s not what we fans hoped it would be. It’s not what Jim Boylen thinks it is.

I have been suggesting we fans consider the month of December Preseason Part II, and I think Boylen is looking at it in the same way. With the return of Lauri Markkanen, Bobby Portis, and Kris Dunn from injury, it’s as if the Bulls have a brand new team. Lineups have to be worked out. Player chemistry has to develop. The new system from the new coach has to be implemented. It’s the start of a brand new season.

If this is the way Boylen is thinking about things, he should have communicated it to the players. If this is Preseason Part II, then it makes sense to spend an exorbitant amount of time on conditioning in practice. It makes sense to sit starters for 20 minutes in the second half of a basketball game. It doesn’t matter then if sitting players results in the worst loss in franchise history, because it’s preseason and it doesn’t count. All Boylen had to do was tell his players that was the plan, and I guarantee the mutiny would never have happened.

The real problem with a meat-head coaching philosophy is that it doesn’t involve explaining things to players; It relies heavily on blind faith that “coach knows best.” Jim Boylen has not proven that “coach knows best.” He is trying a tactic best used on 8 year-olds who are either too young, or too timid, to question authority. “Coach knows best” doesn’t work well with teenagers let alone adults. If you are trying to build a team, if you are trying to build trust, you have to let the players into the inner workings of the decision making process.

Jim Boylen has to communicate better with his team.

As fans, how do we move forward from here?

We can’t effect change on the court. We can’t effect change in coaching style. We can’t effect change in the front office. We get to sit back and watch as a once proud franchise slips into disgrace.

It’s no secret that I am totally disgusted with the job John Paxson and Gar Forman have done building this team. I find them duplicitous, short-sighted, and petty. They have done a good job drafting talented players and freeing up salary cap space, but they do not evaluate players well at the professional level, they consistently get fleeced by other teams in trades resulting in the diminishing talent level of the Bulls players, and they have consistently failed to sign Super Star free agents in their prime.

I had been planning on writing about the so-called “Culture” of the Chicago Bulls, but Ricky O’Donnell of SBNation’s beat me to the punch. If you want to read a great piece detailing the Chicago Bulls actual culture, I suggest giving his article, John Paxson spent 15 years building the NBA’s worst culture…, a nice long read. It’s the perfect flamethrower of an article that soothed this crusty, anti-establishment bloggers soul.


Next up for the Bulls: The Orlando Magic in Mexico City. This is a winnable game people! Thanks for reading, and Go Bulls!