The reportedly unsteady relationship between Jim Boylen and the Chicago Bulls players

by Will Dancer / Staff Reporter

Boylen pleading with LaVine. Photo courtesy of The Salt Lake Tribune.

Even though the 2020 NBA All-Star game was hosted in Chicago, not a single Chicago Bulls player laced up for the main event of the weekend. Superstar shooting guard Zach LaVine participated in the three-point contest, but not even his impressive numbers of 25.3 points per game on 45/38/82 percentage splits could secure him a spot as a reserve on Team Lebron or Team Giannis. 

LaVine said he knows exactly why he didn’t make the cut. 

In a quote given to the Chicago Sun-Times, LaVine said, “We’ve got to be in the [playoff] hunt [to be considered for All-Star invitations]. We’re in the hunt a little bit, but we’re not solidified. We had some ups and downs, had some injuries. But like I told you guys in the beginning, [if] we win, we all succeed. So, we’ll get there, I’ll get there, and I don’t have a doubt in my mind about that.” 

The Bulls are currently holding onto the 11th seed in the Eastern Conference, five games back from the eight seed currently being occupied by the Orlando Magic. LaVine’s confidence may be encouraging to some, but an ongoing seven-game losing streak does not show the substantial improvement from the organization that LaVine was indicating.

With other teams in the league like the Detroit Pistons embracing the rebuild process, it would seem prudent for the Bulls to start considering it as well if they do not reach playoff contention. However, before they reach that breaking point, they may also want to consider the longevity of head coach Jim Boylen’s stay with the Bulls.

Reports stemming all the way back to late 2018 highlight a seemingly significant rift that exists between Boylen and the players under his system. 

After a blowout loss to the Boston Celtics, the Bulls players orchestrated the formation of a “Leadership Committee” in order to improve the back-and-forth input about how to improve the team. 

At the time, Boylen told the Chicago Tribune, “I want the leadership group because they will have input on what we do and how we operate… It doesn’t mean that I’m not the head coach and they’re the players. But they’re going to be respected as men at this level.”

This comes after reports of a “near mutiny” from the Bulls players. LaVine furthered his feelings towards Boylen said in a quote for  ESPN, “You just want to be real with people. There shouldn’t be any clouds. I think of myself as one of the leaders on the team. I just wanted to voice my opinion to them. This is a business, this isn’t a dictatorship. We are all grown men, so everybody has a voice.”

That was December of 2018, and since then, there has been no indication that the committee has been successful in its attempt to mend relationships. LaVine is clearly the leader, or so he says, but the frequent butting heads with Boylen has led to instances of benching and locker room altercations that fans are not even aware of. The young team continues to lose despite the clear amount of talent on the roster. 

While talking with Yahoo Sports at the beginning of this 2019-2020 season, LaVine said: “I’m trying my best, I’ll say that. I’m playing my minutes and trying to do the best I can do. It’s tough, especially when you’re in a rut. If he doesn’t trust me, it’s hard to trust someone who doesn’t trust you.”

This statement came after Lavine was benched after a rough start to the first quarter against the Miami Heat. 

At this point, this doesn’t appear to be an Allen Iverson type of situation where it is just one player that cannot get along with their coach. LaVine does most of the talking for his teammates, but Boylen’s reported use of “tough love” may be causing similar feelings for the other players as well.

Despite all of this, Chicago Bulls Vice President John Paxson expressed his belief to The Atlantic that Boylen is a very “receptive coach,” and that he is “very open to ideas and feedback,” nowhere near the “dictatorship” LaVine suggested. 

Their relationship remains “good,” which seems to signify that Boylen’s job is currently secure for the foreseeable future.   

Paxson doubled down on his statements claiming to the Chicago Sun-Times: “We have had leads that we haven’t really had in the past, and we have let a lot of those go. But that speaks to that consistency component. It just hasn’t been there… One of the struggles that we’ve had is that when physicality presents itself to them in a game, they don’t always respond. That’s just a truth, and that’s cost us in a lot of games.” 

It is interesting that, in Paxson’s eyes, “consistency” is something easily applicable to the players, but not the coach. The team is still one of the youngest in the league and has been struggling with injury for many seasons now.

With the recent news of Cleveland Cavaliers coach John Belien being let go from the organization after less than one season, it goes to show that the firing of head coaches is a legitimate option for Chicago and other teams around the league who are not seeing the success they would like to.



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