BULLS BOUNCE BOYLEN
WE BREAK DOWN THE TOP CANDIDATES ON EXEC ARTURAS KARNISOVAS’ LIST TO BECOME NEXT COACH
There was a lot the old Bulls front office seemed willing to overlook in the Jim Boylen era. Boylen didn’t exactly endear himself to his players, and he definitely wasn’t a fan favorite. And most of all, there was his .317 winning percentage as head coach since December 2018 that couldn’t be explained away by injuries or bad luck.
According to a Bulls source, however, Boylen also displayed continued behavior — even with new bosses in the building — that was considered “detrimental to the organization,” leading Arturas Karnisovas, the new executive vice president of basketball operations, to remove Boylen from the position Friday morning.
Asked to detail the reasons for the firing, Karnisovas took the high road.
“Since it was a very unique situation to be hired in April, we took our time,” Karnisovas told reporters in a teleconference call. “The restrictions were lifted — a little bit more interaction was involved. I think, at the end of the day, I would like to thank [chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] and [president and chief operating officer] Michael Reinsdorf for trusting me to make that basketball decision. There were definitely discussions with ownership, but at the end of the day, the autonomy was left up to me.”
Karnisovas wouldn’t say whether Boylen’s behavior factored in.
“The decision was based on mainly of the basketball part of it, so a basketball decision was made,” he said.
Asked specifically if he was aware of any behavioral red flags, he said, “Again, it was based on a basketball decision.”
The Sun-Times learned that Boylen had a verbal run-in with a team chef several years ago — one of a handful of incidents with personnel in the organization. A team lawyer got involved, and Boylen was given a warning. However, the feeling was that Boylen became more and more comfortable under then-general manager Gar Forman, who was fired in April, and then-executive John Paxson, who was reassigned to a senior advisor role at the same time.
According to the source, once Karnisovas and new general manager Marc Eversley were able to get in the office consistently during the pandemic, they got information from human resources on Boylen and
witnessed his behavior themselves. Factor in negative feelings among some players toward Boylen and the Bulls’ exclusion from the league restart in Florida — marking an end to their season — and the decision was made to fire Boylen, even though he was well-liked by the Reinsdorfs.
In April, several key Bulls players made their feelings about Boylen known to the new executives. Karnisovas acknowledged that was a factor.
“Doing this research, I mean, [the players] are one of the components of the criteria and evaluation, so they were part of it,” Karnisovas said. “Players are always a part of it.”
The members of Boylen’s coaching staff are expected to stay on while they undergo their own evaluations. For Karnisovas, the priority is beginning the search for the team’s 24th head coach, and he intends to be deliberate in that process.
“Well, the signal is we’re changing things,” he said. “It signals that we’re looking forward to what comes next. We just felt that this program needed a change and needed a change now, and I can’t wait to find the next coach for this group.”
Ime Udoka, a 76ers assistant coach, was on the radar months ago as the leading candidate to replace Boylen, and one scout said that hasn’t changed.
“There’s no deadline [or] timeline on it,” Karnisovas said. “I think, again, we live in very strange times, and we’re going to do our diligence. We’re going to start the search as of today.” ✶
“[THIS] signals that we’re looking forward to what comes next. We just felt that this program needed a change and needed a change now, and I can’t wait to find the next coach for this group.’’
Coach Jim Boylen talks to Bulls players (from left) Wendell Carter Jr., Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen during a timeout last December. The Bulls ended several months of wondering when they fired Boylen on Friday.
Jim Boylen (with forward Daniel Gafford) was an assistant under the Bulls’ previous coach, Fred Hoiberg, then was promoted when Hoiberg was fired in December 2018. Boylen had a .317 winning percentage.