Bulls mailbag: Assessing early wreckage of unexpected 1-4 start


Early or not, many of the good vibes are gone. Much of the optimism has faded. The venom from fans that was supposed to be minimized by better basketball has returned with a vengeance. Yes, this 1-4 start from the Bulls is that bad. Which is why you have questions.

Q: Is Jim Boylen’s job in jeopardy? - Hamza B.

A: The short answer is no. The long answer is not only did the Bulls extend Boylen’s contract during the offseason, but ownership and management are also fully convinced he’s the right man for the job. In fact, I’ve rarely seen a coach as organizationally aligned as Boylen is. And I’ve covered a few Bulls coaches. Boylen isn’t going anywhere.

Q: Will ownership ever fire GarPax? – Bill S.

I’ve written before I believe John Paxson would resign if he feels this rebuild failed. I want to emphasize that’s my opinion and not my reporting. While there are certainly troubling signs, it’s too early this season to say the rebuild has failed. And ownership wouldn’t make such a change during the season anyway. Let’s play this out a bit.

Does this team remind you of the 2003-04 team? Coming into that season, there was hope that the team’s young players, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler and Jamal Crawford, would take the next step in their development and make a playoff push with the addition of veterans such as Scottie Pippen to help guide them. There were similar hopes with this year’s team and much like that 03-04 season, it is apparent that the young core isn’t developing like the team hoped and that it might be time to blow up the roster (and hopefully the coaching staff and management). - Dan B.

It's early, but that’s a really intriguing comp and one I hadn’t thought of yet. There’s no definitive answer yet. What I will say is that, like that team, it’s all about the core taking the next step. Management and Boylen talked consistently about all offseason moves clearing the runway for Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen to take steps towards stardom. That needs to happen for this team to get better.

On a night where Karl Anthony Towns is fighting Joel Embiid, we have zero technical fouls in five games. I became a Bulls fan because of Joakim Noah. But the days of Noah and Taj Gibson with heart over stats are gone. With Bobby Portis gone, do you see Wendell Carter Jr. as the next hard hat guy or is a trade needed to bring in the new “grit and grind after every shot” guy? – William B., Alabama

Fighting leads to suspensions, so that’s not the answer. That said, yes, this team hasn’t been playing physically. Soft is a dangerous word to throw around. Players have pride and put the work in to be at this level. But you can’t keep getting outrebounded by double digits and expect to win. You can’t keep losing battles for 50-50 balls and expect to win. This team needs to play with more toughness, no doubt. I don’t see a trade coming. It has to happen internally. And the fact that Carter, at 20, is the one you mention is both a good sign and a bad one. It means the Bulls have a young, foundational leader who was still trying to dunk and block dunks at the end of the Cavaliers’ loss. But it also means he’s standing out right now in a locker room largely lacking in this department.

I’ve been reading you for as long as I could read. Why doesn’t Jim utilize Shaq Harrison, Denzel Valentine or Daniel Gafford more? It’s been five games and those guys have barely (if at all) touched the floor. For all the rebounding issues the Bulls have had, it seems like they could really use some energy in the paint. - Luke D.

Changing the rotation should be on the table. Don’t forget: Chandler Hutchison is close to a return as well. The Bulls are playing soft, particularly defensively and in rebounding. Valentine is actually a strong rebounder for his position. There’s been a lot of fan love for Gafford over Luke Kornet. I thought Kornet played pretty well in Cleveland so I’d probably keep Kornet in the rotation. But something should change.

What is the main reason for the Bulls’ lack of defensive effort and what’s up with the three-guard lineup when they are constantly being outrebounded on a nightly basis? - Alexander H.

Hutchison’s return should end the three-guard rotation. As for the lack of defensive effort, Wendell Carter Jr. gave strong voice to that following the loss in Cleveland. He talked about each player needing to focus on his individual matchup and to take pride in it. And that’s a second-year player who just turned 20 in April.

Can you pinpoint exactly what is wrong with this Bulls team? Implosions in the fourth quarter? Complete inability to play any sort of basketball in crunch time? Lack of 3 point shooting? Lack of rebounding? All of the above and more? What is the first thing the Bulls should do to fix their woeful play? - John O.

Pinpointing would seem to narrow the focus. There are myriad issues. They are getting crushed on the boards, play poor defense at crucial moments and often resort to not making the extra pass offensively when the game is close.

This will be lost in the anger and apathy surrounding this three-game losing streak, but the Bulls are doing some good things. They’re not turning the ball over, posting just six to 25 assists in Cleveland. Their 3-point shooting finally ticked upward to 36 percent against the Cavaliers. None of this is cause for celebration, obviously. But there are signs this could turn around at some point.

What is happening?  - Brendan H.

Other than uninspired basketball and my kids being out of school for, like, 57 days? Not much.

Just want to circle back on this: Why should I give this team one second of my time? Eric H.

To watch Neil Funk, Stacey King, Jason Goff, Kendall Gill and Will Perdue do their thang.

The defense has given up towards the end of games in two of their losses.  Are players still adjusting to a new defensive scheme? Are they getting tired towards the end? What are the coaches’ plans to correct these defensive lapses towards the end of games?  - Awni S.

Keep practicing. The Bulls actually employed several different coverage schemes during the Cavaliers’ game. And it looked like the different looks might’ve confused the players, who didn’t really master any. Carter admitted to still working his way into game shape and actually asked to come out of the Cavaliers’ game. But he’s the least of the Bulls’ defensive concerns. Then again, all the coaching in the world can’t make up for times like when Collin Sexton backcut Zach LaVine and dunked in the fourth quarter. Sometimes, it has to fall on the player.

My question is in relation to the "Bulls across chest" etc. that Jim spits out all the time. I know he believes it, but have the players bought into that? Right now, we sit 1-4 against pretty ordinary competition for the most part. All I see is a team of guys playing more for the name on the back of the jersey. Matt A., Australia

The players know how much Boylen cares. They don’t have to always love his unconventional sound bites as long as he works with them, which he does, and cares for them, which he does. I do think there is a tendency for guys to try to do too much individually at times. But I think it’s based more on a lack of trust than selfishness.

I made a bet with my teammates that if the Bulls don’t make the playoffs they get to shave my head, and I’m quite fond of my hair. Can you help talk me down thinking I’m doomed? Do I just shave my head now or do I hold out till April? You’re a class act. Thanks for the great reads. - Brian S.

Are you going to keep saying that when I remind you I didn’t pick this team to make the playoffs? Happy haircut.

Is Otto Porter Jr. hurt? He seems like a shell of the player he was last season. What reason did GarPax give for not doing a proper round of interviews for head coach? Know anyone who would want to buy my tickets? - Russell K.

Porter said he feels fine physically and he did play more aggressively in Cleveland. He has battled nagging injuries throughout his career, including hip issues dating to his college career. The Bulls talked about limiting his minutes and possibly using load management for back-to-back games and they’re aware of Porter’s hip history. But there’s no doubt he hasn’t made the same impact thus far.

As reported often throughout last season, not only did management think Boylen’s personality and care factor was the right touch for this rebuild but ownership did too. That’s why.

As for your tickets, thanks for the laugh.

Tomas Satoransky looks like a “does all the little things” substitute and Otto Porter Jr. looks like he should be out several weeks to tend to whatever is ailing him. Please tell Coach Pushups to start Thaddeus Young and Coby White. This team needs it right now. - Spencer G.

Even though the Bulls have experienced some slow starts, the starting lineup is fine to me. White looks for his shot first, which wouldn’t fit that well alongside Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. He’s in a good role as a reserve scorer. Young closed the Cavaliers game. I wouldn’t be surprised if Boylen develops such a trust in him and his veteran savvy that it happens more. But the Bulls didn’t sign him to be a starter.

I'm trying to reconcile the 1-4 start against four of the worst teams in the league. I feel like there are three options:

A) Bad coaching with decent players

B) Decent players that haven't clicked yet

C) Players are worse than I think

I'm leaning towards A, but scared that it's just C. Every phase of the game looks forced and bad. They don't get many open shots and when they do they aren't making them. Defensive chemistry looks atrocious. Passing is forced. I'm holding out hope for B, but each new loss to another bad team (and looking terrible doing so) has me worried. What are your thoughts? Will the talent we all think is there start to come out? - C. Chase

I don’t think they’re this bad, but I also don’t think they’re a playoff team. Too much has to go right for them to make the jump from 22 victories to the playoffs. Another issue is they're failing to post victories in a relatively easy portion of the schedule.

Congrats on your new gig. Miss you at the Tribune a lot, but I’m happy for you and wish you well. Count me among the naive fans that thought the Bulls meant what they said about pace of play, multi handler offense, shot selection and attention to defense/rebounding. Losses to New York and Cleveland back-to-back lay waste to these claims. I’ll pass on the usual finger pointing and just ask two questions: Given the solid off-season additions and decent draft, why has this team not come together yet? And Why, oh why, do they seem to lack any ability to close out a game? – Tom S.

Hate to keep saying this, but it’s early. The 2004-05 Bulls started 0-9 and made the playoffs. I don’t think the latter is happening with this team, but I certainly think they can play better.

There’s no simple or single answer for their inability to close out games. They’re young. Many of their core players haven’t won much in the NBA. They stop trusting each other defensively and resort to isolation play offensively. What management has to hope is that it’s not because the players aren’t as good as they thought. That would sink the rebuild.

Maybe this is a question better posed to Boylen, but what is going into his thought process to continue with this hyper-aggressive pick-and-roll trapping scheme with the big men? Any good passing team gets the ball to the roll man who has an easy 4-on-3 heading toward the basket with full steam. It's fairly evident to me this team isn't lacking effort. It feels purely like schematic and coaching decisions. Also, what’s up with another three-guard lineup of Coby White, Kris Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono? Your only playmaker is a rookie point guard. You draft a guy seventh overall at 19 years old and give him the majority of his minutes in a place where he has to create with no space on the floor in isolation? He's deadly on the catch-and-shoot. Put him in a place to succeed and get him time with Sato and Zach on the floor. – Jeff M.

As previously mentioned, I thought the Bulls switched up their pick-and-roll coverage some in the Cavaliers game. That’s not to say they mastered any of the looks because they didn’t. But I agree with you that the Bulls are giving up way too many open looks because teams are either getting middle penetration, beating this aggressive pick-and-roll scheme or both. As for the three-guard lineup, I think Hutchison’s return will end it. White and LaVine teamed together well down the stretch of the Bulls’ lone victory in Memphis. There’s a spot for him in that role if he’s shooting well. He hasn’t done so since.

Which team will win another game first, the Bears or the Bulls? Both teams started their seasons talking playoffs. But both are losing to teams who didn’t start with that talk.  Both are in the basements of their divisions. Both predicted offensive improvement that isn’t there. Both are relying on growth from core players that hasn’t yet been in evidence. (Both coaches are bald, but that’s probably irrelevant.) For the Bears, I think fans and media alike have concluded that the early-season warnings were real, and the team is much more flawed than first thought, with some challenging core issues that will not be solved this season. What’s your sense of the Bulls from being around the team so far? Are you leaning towards a similar conclusion for them or more towards: “Can’t conclude anything from five games; let’s watch another fifteen”? - Mark U.

Probably more the latter, although I wasn’t as high on this team as some. I thought they’d at least be relevant again and playing more competitively. So that part has been troubling. I wrote several times I believed this team would struggle defensively. That has been the case, and I don’t see that going away. As for your direct question, the Bulls play Friday and Sunday, although the Bears kick off first. How about the Blackhawks? Oh, wait.

Thanks for all your questions. Talk to you soon.

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