The Jim Boylen era comes to an end as Arturas Karnisovas begins search for new Bulls head coach

Boylen was relieved of his duties after compiling a 39-84 record (.317) as Bulls head coach
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later

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Jim Boylen was relieved of his duties on Friday morning, the last official day of the NBA regular season. Arturas Karnisovas told the media that a formal coaching search will begin immediately.

The Bulls Friday called time. This time it was the coach who was benched.

Jim Boylen, who hadn't yet coached a full season for the Bulls with the team's season ending in March due to the pandemic, technically was relieved of his duties as head coach. Call it a double technical.

Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations Arturas Karnisovas insisted in a hurried media conference call Friday morning following the announcement that the move was strictly a basketball decision after several months of active deliberations that apparently included considerations of players, staff, philosophy, strategy, temperament, free agent possibilities and results. Karnisovas said he and his staff now will begin a search for a new coach, which also could be a lengthy process.

Karnisovas also suggested the timing of the coaching decision more than four months after he was hired wasn't unusual because it matched the effective end of the NBA regular season. The NBA's so called "bubble" of continuing games in Orlando closes its "regular season" Friday, although there is a play-in game in the Western Conference this weekend. The playoffs begin Monday.

Jim Boylen

Boylen compiled an overall record of 39-84 as Bulls head coach.

So if there were no coronavirus shutdown of the NBA in March, this timing of a decision Friday would reflect a usual day after the last game of the regular season.

The move also supports Karnisovas' contention that he has complete autonomy, a word he used several times during the media call, to make basketball decisions without ownership interference.

"We're going to start the process (of hiring a new coach) immediately," said Karnisovas. "From obviously diving into the search and interview process and scheduling it all, we'll have to figure that out. I took my time for a reason. It was a process to make that decision. Over the last few months, since I was hired in April, I had no timeline. This was the right time to make this change. That's what I did. It was strictly a basketball decision. We had criteria in mind. We took our time for the past five months to get to this decision. I think it's the right decision for our organization. "Since it was a very unique situation to be hired in April, we took our time," Karnisovas reiterated. "The restrictions were lifted a little bit more. Interaction was involved. At the end of the day, I'd like to thank (chairman) Jerry (Reinsdorf) and (team president) Michael Reinsdorf for trusting me to make that basketball decision. There were definitely discussions with the ownership. But at the end of the day, the timing was left up to me.

Full Arturas Karnisovas press conference audio

"Officially," Karnisovas noted, "the last day of the regular season is today. So I thought the timing was right now going into the lottery (Thursday) and the draft process. It's official offseason for us. And in terms of what we're going to be looking for, we're going to continue focusing on player development, someone who puts relationships with players first and is a good communicator. There are a lot of factors going on in terms of criteria that we're looking for in a coach. Those are the main ones. We will start the search immediately."

Karnisovas has indicated he has a long list of potential choices, though there have not been any interviews or outside communications. There already are speculations about potential candidates, like recently fired Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, ABC broadcaster Mark Jackson, Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr. who worked with Karnisovas and Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka who worked with general manager Mark Eversley. It mostly involves media guesswork for now since Karnisovas obviously has demonstrated an expertise at deliberation. Several current NBA coaches are rumored to be vulnerable, like Philadelphia's Brett Brown, New Orleans' Alvin Gentry and Houston's Mike D'Antoni. Karnisovas declined to say what will happen with Boylen's staff, one of whom, Chris Fleming, worked for Karnisovas in Denver after being a longtime international coach.

"This was the right time to make this change. That's what I did. It was strictly a basketball decision."

Arturas Karnisovas

There has been NBA discussions regarding teams left out of Orlando finally being able to have group workouts in September. Which could benefit from having a coach, though it certainly would not be necessary with the league's 2020-21 restart not scheduled until at least December and possibly into next spring.

Boylen's successor will be the Bulls third coach since 2019 after Boylen and Fred Hoiberg. Tom Thibodeau previously had a winning record, but since Phil Jackson left in 1998 most of the coaches the Bulls hired didn't have NBA experience and were not successful. Floyd has the lowest winning percentage in team history among Bulls coaches longer than one season at 20.5 percent followed by Boylen at 31.7 percent at 39-84 and then Bill Cartwright. Since Scott Skiles in 2008, the last four coaches the Bulls hired all were without NBA head coaching experience. Only Thibodeau had a winning record.

There are numerous experienced NBA coaches working in TV and on various staffs, like Tyronn Lue, Stan Van Gundy, David Fizdale, Jeff Hornacek, Dave Joerger, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins, Brian Shaw, Mike Brown, Mo Cheeks and Byron Scott.

Karnisovas is an expert in international scouting and several international coaches have NBA experience, like David Blatt, Ettore Messina now in Italy, Igor Kokoskov now in Turkey and former NBA player Sarunas Jasikevicius, now coaching in Spain.

Boylen, 55, is a native of Grand Rapids, Mich., who graduated from the U. of Maine and joined the Michigan State coaching staff. He was mostly an NBA assistant starting with Houston in 1992, where he was on the staff of two title teams, and also with the Spurs, Warriors, Pacers and Bucks, He also was head coach four seasons for the U. of Utah. He joined the Bulls as Hoiberg's top assistant in 2015 and replaced Hoiberg Dec. 3, 2018 with the Bulls 5-19.

The Bulls finished that season 17-41 and were 22-43 when the virus stopped NBA play this season.

Boylen had a rocky start to his Bulls tenure with an apparent management mandate to get tougher. He called lengthy practices with extra running and in one game substituted five starters in what became a 56-point loss and subsequent dissatisfaction among some players that led to rumors of a practice boycott. It didn't occur. Boylen insisted he was tasked with developing a harder edge to the players and a more rigorous defensive style. It didn't lead to enough wins, but there was statistical progress.

The team had moved up to sixth this season in defensive efficiency until its best defenders, Wendell Carter Jr and Kris Dunn, were injured. Turnovers were down to 12th in the NBA from 21st and the Bulls were among the league leaders in steals, pace and fast break points thanks to those steals. Boylen also emphasized team spirit, which was difficult amidst defeat, and then proved futile with another serious round of injuries. Otto Porter Jr. played just 29 games since being acquired in February 2019 and Lauri Markkanen and Carter again missed large chunks of both seasons injured. As a result, the Bulls were again forced to play numerous former G-league players, often as starters.

Jim Boylen and Zach LaVine

So the Bulls lost numerous late leads. But Zach LaVine has grown into an All-Star level player among the league leaders in scoring and rookie Coby White was coming fast after the All-Star game as a high scoring partner with LaVine, a duo who should help enable the next coach.

But sports, political and business history generally suggests a new boss wants his own staff. So in some respects Boylen's departure, if not imminent, may have been inevitable.

"I sincerely want to thank Jim Boylen for his time with the Chicago Bulls. I have no doubt that he has given this organization his very best effort and poured his heart into coaching this team," Karnisovas said in opening remarks Friday. "The human element of these decisions is never easy. Jim Boylen cares deeply and is passionate about the game and about the Bulls. So the decision to move in a different direction with our head coach is not one that was arrived at lightly. Ultimately, my responsibility is to move this organization on a trajectory of success. And it's been apparent from the beginning that this involves making changes. I respectfully acknowledge the hard work and dedication of all of those in this organization who have come before me. But I'm dedicated and committed to cultivating a culture that creates winning and has its sights set on championships.

Arturas Karnisovas

Arturas Karnisovas made this move four months into his role as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

"It's (player input) one of the components (of a change)," said Karnisovas. "Of course, the criteria is much wider. We're looking for many factors that we're going to decide internally. But obviously, attention to players and player care is our No. 1 priority. The decision was based mainly on the basketball part of it. A basketball decision was made. Ownership gave me autonomy to make that decision. It was based on basketball, not financials. We were looking at the big picture and we just felt that the program needed change and a fresh perspective.

"There's no specific number (of candidates)," Karnisovas confirmed. "There's no deadline. We're going to compile the list of candidates and we're going to start the interview process. I'm not going to give you specifics (for the change). It was a basketball decision that was made based on a lot of factors. We had five months to do that. That's based on what we saw during the process. The signal is that we're changing things. It signals that we're looking forward to what comes next. I was not looking at the perception. I was doing my due diligence during the last five months. We felt this program needed a change and needed a change now. I can't wait to find the next coach for this group."

It was time.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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