Bulls mailbag: What's Jim Boylen's status? How does new regime view core?


ESPN's "The Last Dance" has been fun. But it's nice to write about the current Bulls every once in a while, even if they're not playing games.

Why would the Bulls blow up the front office, get their guy, let him reshape everything and then make it known they want to keep a coach who isn’t well-liked by players and hasn’t been successful? – Red J., via Twitter

They didn’t. Arturas Karnisovas runs basketball operations and has full authority to make basketball-related decisions. This was made abundantly clear during the interview process. All Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf did was explain the positive attributes he and former executive vice president John Paxson saw when they hired and extended Boylen and asked Karnisovas to get to know him before making a decision on Boylen’s future. From Karnisovas’ reputation around the league as a thoughtful, substantive decision-maker, it sounds like he would have done this anyway. But make no mistake: Boylen’s future will be Karnisovas’ call.

Where’s the new management at regarding Jim Boylen? – G Phunk, via Twitter

They’ve told Boylen to focus on coaching the team while they work to evaluate all departments, including him and his staff. In a sign of Karnisovas' leadership style, he has empowered Boylen by making clear to anyone who asks that Boylen is the coach. Along those lines, Boylen is talking to players and his staff, and watching film. If there’s a resumption of the 2019-20 season for all 30 teams, I think it’s more likely than not he coaches those games. Beyond that, I haven’t seen any belief or reporting, including mine, that suggests Boylen will be the long-term answer for this regime. It’s not exactly going out on a limb to say that most executives want their own coaches in place. Heck, John Paxson fired his former teammate in Bill Cartwright to bring in Scott Skiles less than six months after succeeding Jerry Krause. But only Karnisovas knows if and when a change may occur.

When Karnisovas and Marc Eversley were hired, both executives made a point of saying they’d evaluate every department and that they’d work to make the Bulls a players-first organization. Given that players occasionally questioned their usages and the offensive and defensive systems last season, their feedback on Boylen won’t be all positive. Nobody doubts Boylen’s care factor, which Karnisovas has publicly acknowledged. But when there’s clarity on the NBA calendar, and the offseason and start date for 2020-21, there will be more clarity on Boylen.

I’m concerned that if the Bulls replace Boylen, it will be with yet another first-time coach. Aside from Phil Jackson and Tom Thibodeau, the culture of giving guys their first shot at coaching hasn’t worked out so well. Isn’t it time to hire proven coaches with experience at winning if the Bulls are truly talking about changing the culture? – Jason M.

I’d add Johnny Kerr, Dick Motta and Doug Collins to your list. And Jerry Sloan turned out to be a pretty good coach, just not with the Bulls. But you raise an intriguing point.

Karnisovas hasn’t been in a lead executive role before, so it’s hard to fully know what his preferences for the ideal coach are. Remember that he has worked to empower Boylen for now. In talking to some people who know him well, my sense is if he ultimately makes a change that most league observers expect, he will place a premium on someone he trusts to emphasize player relationships, player development and a read-and-react offensive system. Boylen emphasizes player relationships, too, as evidenced by all his travels last summer to visit players. And one could make the argument that most significant players save for Lauri Markkanen developed this season.

What are Arturas Karnisovas’ and Marc Eversley’s initial thoughts on the young core of Coby White, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr.? Do you think they will do whatever it takes to get Markkanen back on track when/if the season returns? – Josh J.

Both executives talked positively about the potential of the core. Of course they’re going to say that publicly, and I’m sure part of their evaluation process will be based on getting to know the players personally. Doing so remotely adds a different layer, and both executives talked about being gym rats and learning about what makes people tick that way. It’s why I believe they’ll be conservative initially, especially given the uncertainty of the NBA calendar. They haven’t even been to the Advocate Center yet.

I did find it interesting that Eversley several times mentioned wanting to dive deep into why Markkanen regressed some last season. This, to me, suggests he realizes Markkanen's value. Eversley also mentioned rim protection as something he values, which, despite his size limitations, Carter can be effective at when he’s healthy and out of foul trouble. Both men gushed about White.

From my point of view, Zach LaVine is the centerpiece of the team and I don’t think he should be involved in any trades. What do you think? – Withallo M., Brazil

I’ve consistently been a big LaVine defender and supporter. He’s one of the league’s most gifted and natural scorers, he cares about winning and he’s still young. That said, he’s clearly the Bulls’ biggest trade asset, particularly since his contract is reasonable. I don’t know the new regime well enough to know where it stands on LaVine. I’d keep him and try to surround him with more talent. If he’s not a No. 1, that’s not his fault. He’s a valuable piece.

What do you think is the future for Lauri Markkanen and the Bulls? – Alfonso M., via Twitter

We’re going to find out how he's valued by the current regime soon enough. Once the NBA calendar is established, he’s eligible for an extension of his rookie contract during the offseason. Given that the Bulls traded Jimmy Butler in part for him, you can bet his representation will be asking for a lot. Given that he regressed through an injury-riddled and usage-challenged season last year, you can bet the new regime will try to sign him to a reasonable contract. Karnisovas and Eversley are well respected throughout the agency community. This includes a strong relationship with Markkanen's agent. That should make for cordial negotiations. Whether they’re fruitful or not remains to be seen. If no extension is reached, the Bulls would still own his rights as a restricted free agent if they extend him a qualifying offer (the value of which is impossible to project until we know the exact ramifications the league’s stoppage will have on the CBA).

Barring any unforeseen trades, the Bulls will largely be the same team next season from a personnel perspective, aside from their draft pick. Lauri, Wendell, Zach and Coby each need 34 or more minutes a night, leaving few minutes to accommodate the veterans on the bench and a high draft pick. Do you think the new front office almost has to make a trade to free up minutes? Thad Young or Sato should both be fairly easy to move, and it’s clear this team is closer to another full scale rebuild rather than the playoffs. – Nick P.

Well, you’ve mentioned four projected starters. So playing them 34 minutes a night wouldn’t necessitate a trade. Young and Satoransky both can handle coming off the bench. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Young moved next season. He’s a savvy veteran who can help any playoff team. And the final season of his deal isn’t fully guaranteed. Again, the lack of a definitive NBA calendar makes it unknown when the 2020-21 trade deadline will be. But that’s when I can most see Young getting dealt.

Has Lauri Markkanen fully recovered from the injuries that were bugging him throughout this season? – That One Bulls Fan, via Twitter

Have you seen his social media posts of shooting on his toddler son’s hoop? He’s back, baby.

Bad jokes aside, Markkanen moved well in the four games he played before the league shutdown and after his return from his pelvis injury. He played 27 minutes in the final game. He should be fine whenever the NBA returns.

Do you see any benefit to the Bulls resigning Derrick Rose next offseason? I believe the energy and excitement from the signing could change the trajectory of the team. – Ira M.

My belief is that that window of opportunity was last summer, which is why I wrote a column advocating for the Bulls to do so. Instead, the previous managerial regime focused on Tomas Satoransky. Satoransky is an extremely solid player who brings versatility, a rotation player for any team in the league and a valuable plug-and-play guy. But, to me, he didn’t solve the Bulls’ biggest need from their lead guard, which is the ability to break down defenses off the dribble or thrive in pick-and-roll. Rose does both.

There is so much unknown regarding the future of the NBA, including how the pandemic will affect salary cap and luxury tax figures. Before the pandemic hit, the Bulls were set up to own maximum salary cap space in the 2021 offseason. There will be bigger free-agent targets than Rose at that time.

Do you have any insight to what happened (if anything) between Jimmy Butler and Fred Hoiberg that may have sparked trading Jimmy to the Timberwolves back in 2017? He was my favorite player and, as a fellow Marquette alum, I remember being devastated the day it happened. I didn’t understand why the Bulls would get rid of their best player. – Hannah M.

Nothing happened between them. Butler just wanted Hoiberg to be something he isn’t and said so publicly. One thing about Butler that I respected from a reporter’s perspective: He didn’t duck the tough moments. He put his name behind most everything. And he admitted he needed to look inward when he felt he needed to take on more responsibility. That’s not to say he was the perfect leader – he has admitted to growth in this area – but nobody could dispute his work ethic or improvement as a player.

The decision to trade Butler stemmed from John Paxson’s desire to rebuild. Paxson pushed for a trade to the Celtics in 2016 on draft day, but the right return didn’t materialize. A year later, the Bulls felt it did, and they pulled the plug on the Butler era. Butler was eligible for a supermax contract extension that would’ve been worth over $200 million. That doesn’t mean the Bulls would’ve had to pay him that full amount; they could’ve negotiated with his camp to try to lower that overall money. But internally, the Bulls felt rebuilding was a better path than paying in that neighborhood for someone they weren’t sold could be the best player on a championship team.

Butler had great years in Chicago and still has fond feelings for the organization. He has clearly found his match in Miami.

What is the most random memory that popped in your head watching The Last Dance? And what hobby have you picked up during the quarantine? – Gustavo V., via Twitter

It’s not really a random memory, but I keep remembering the day Phil Jackson drove away from the Berto Center for the last time on his motorcycle. I was fortunate to get the assignment for the Chicago Tribune, which played the story on what we in the business call A-1. That’s the front of the newspaper, not the front of the sports section. I felt like I was covering sports history, and I noticed a small sign on the gate leading to the private players and coaches parking lot. It said: "Caution: Autos only. No motorcycles, bicycles or pedestrians." I closed the story with that, finding it emblematic of Jackson’s maverick past and independent thinking reputation.

As for hobbies, nothing new. Still trying to be better on acoustic guitar and still crushing our sons’ souls in “H-O-R-S-E” games in the alley.

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