Ask Sam Mailbag: 12.07.18
Sam opens his mailbag and answers your questions about Jim Boylen, the Bulls and the NBA
I was curious to hear what people are saying about Fred being fired. Here's what I "learned"...
The consensus is that Fred never had a fair chance, but also that he wasn't competent, and almost everybody wonders why they didn't give him the rest of the season, though many think he would be gone then anyway.
In that respect, I'd have to agree. The Bulls' recent woes fall on the FO as well as Fred. They've done some weird things... incl. his hiring. And I would have given him the rest of the season. Still, I do get Pax's point that he just didn't seem to have that fire, much less the ability to light it up in others. Most people think that – title or no – Jim Boylen is an interim coach and not the final answer. I'm not so sure about that. He has 3 rings as an Asst. and worked under Pop, so maybe he's ready. But as they say, moving over that one chair is the biggest 18 inches in the world. Let's see how he does and who's available this summer.
ESPN can't tell Boylen from Boylan. They actually reported that this was Boylen's 2nd stint with the Bulls, and their graphic of past Bulls coaches listed 'Jim Boylen' right after Skiles.
CBS pronounces John Paxson's name as 'Paxton'.
And there's a theory about Fred being fired for playing Lauri a game too early, or for not starting him on Saturday. It may not be coincidence that they want a fresh voice just as the injured guys are back.
Sam: As we have all lamented many times in this era, one of the greatest dangers of the internet has been enabling people who shouldn't have a voice to have one. No one can apparently believe more than one person in the world could be a Boylen, I agree. As Fred seemed to fit a reasonable profile as a head coach, Boylen certainly does as well. After all, if we had never heard of him and his last name was spelled Boyland and we knew he was an assistant under Popovich, Tomjanovich and Vogel and a former college head coach who also worked under Izzo and Heathcote, we'd be laughing that Toronto only got Nick Nurse (Coach of the Month) and we got this guy. So we'll see.
The fair part really is moot in sports, especially coaching, and that life in general thing. It is a function of the capitalistic system we so much embrace. Employees don't have the power. Though they only seem to in theory as opposed to reality in those other nirvanas. It's like working in the presidential cabinet. Jeff Sessions may have been the best attorney general ever (fact check: he wasn't), but he serves at the pleasure of the president, and no matter how erratic or wrong or misinformed or mean spirited any president may be, it's his or her call.
I've been there as have most of my colleagues and just about every American worker I've ever spoken to. Who ever thinks they're the one doing the bad job at work? But you lose your job when circumstances change, like when profits go down, a new product line is started, or some idiot invents the internet. Unless you own the business, you serve at the pleasure of the people who do. When I worked at The Chicago Tribune the owners and board made some incredibly stupid decisions that cost all of us a lot of money, like buying the LA Times and Newsday. Then we lost our jobs. They got bonuses. Did you notice how the bank executives did in the Great Recession and then those staff accountants at Bear Sterns? As long as you play in a market based society like ours and go to work for a company, you agree to that rule. We all have the choice not to work for that company, which is our precious right and freedom. We then factor in the level of compensation, which can offset to some degree the inevitable departure. I did get a nice buyout from The Tribune. Thanks for that. But that business additionally has the right to pursue its goals with whomever it chooses no matter the outside perception of the equity or morality. Management believed it was time for a change. It's the only real expectation in professional sports.
Could the timing of the coaching change be a way to help the tank without the league penalty? The season is basically over for the Bulls. Going full tank seems the best plan. Letting Hoiberg finish the season with a healthy roster just misses the playoffs and hurts the lottery rankings. Same situation in Cleveland. Keeping Ty Lue as coach helps the record and hurts the tank. This change is just meant to hurt the record.
Sam: You are obviously not a Jim Boylen fan. From the Bulls point of view, it's exactly the opposite of your view, however conspiratorial yours may be. The Bulls don't do conspiracy no matter how many think they do. No one really in business thinks that way. When your business is bad people think that way. Likely Fred would have done much better having Dunn, Portis, et al, back playing instead of the likes of Blakeney, Payne and Arcidiacono. Likely so would you. But the Bulls indicated they want to do even better. No one was talking playoffs as John Paxson stated Monday when announcing the dismissal. But he could have been because he was saying, in effect, we want to do better than Fred would have done with this team by being tougher, more physical, better conditioned, fighting, and so on. All that suggests more wins. No one knows how Boylen will be in his first pro coaching job—though I personally consider college the pros except for the part about not paying the workers—but Paxson made the change to see the team play better than it has been and would be when the injured players return. So in theory they should be much farther from the lottery than they might have been without a change.
Yes, the Bulls are last in the East. But if they could make up one game every two weeks, which doesn't seem like much, they'd be in the playoffs. Heck, Boylen may have a shot at Coach of the Year.
Fred is a good man, but his in game adjustments and schemes didn't evolve enough over the years and the Bulls management saw the same thing I did. Furthermore, the players would simply not compete many nights, I agree with you that talent was lacking but rebuilding teams are usually scrappy. Fred is quite simply a perfect college coach, not enough of a jerk for the NBA.
Sam: I'm not ready to agree with that assessment quite yet. Fred, to me, was initially tasked to ride the ship down, which he did loyally with the departures of Rose and Noah. And Dunleavy and Snell. Then came the pause before the inevitable and the start of rebuilding. The Bulls were in your camp, that the players should have responded more appropriately and energetically. I still would like to see Fred in a situation where he has some stability over a few seasons to work in his plans. I don't think the Bulls were wrong to hire him as he checked so many boxes of former NBA player, front office executive, college head coach and student of the game. Why wouldn't you hire him? His college teams were huge overachievers as well. The Bulls had a defensive-oriented, slow down coach in an evolving era screaming for more offense and movement, and players legs apparently screaming for some rest. So how looking at that resume and experience could it have been a bad choice? I'd hire that guy again from where the Bulls were at the time. I hope someone else will because Fred did have progressive offensive ideas and I am curious to see if he can make them work elsewhere. He may not have been the right guy, but I think he deserves another chance to show if he can be.
Can the Bulls go and make a big trade move now? We have a lot of youth and going into the draft again for a 19yr old is not going to help. Lavine, Markkanen and Carter's window is now on decent contracts. Why not go splash and go for Kemba walker? PG is what we need but maybe a more pass first but then again we need points.
Give them: Lopez, Holiday, Our 1st round pick which might be top 5 pick at the moment. Maybe 10th-15 at worst.; Even throw in Dunn! We need a playoff berth this year, not next. We need to acquire via trade and no free agent will come to us with the current mess. MJ meanwhile can stockpile free space and get a first round pick.
Sam: Well, Kemba's an unrestricted free agent and might walk after the season, so how would you feel then about that deal? Kemba's exceptionally popular in Charlotte, he wants to stay and they are doing well with a new coach and Jordan is said to admire him. Everything seems to indicate he will resign with the Hornets. I really don't believe the Bulls are in position for a major trade, and if you give up that pick and the Bulls don't make the playoffs and since the lottery odds are flattened out so the bottom six or seven teams have almost the same chance and Zion goes to the Hornets and Michael Jordan, will you accept the mail the Bulls would be getting?
I thought the plan was to lose, and given that 3 (supposed) starters were out it is surprising that they are even in games. I never understood why they hired Fred... college and the NBA are diametrically opposed. I am not a Fred fan but he still got hosed. If they start:
- Parker SF
- Lauri PF
- Wendel C
I see how on offense it could work. But on defense?
Sam: That's the interesting thing about our one game look at Boylen. He seems to believe he can do it with defense with this team. When we've looked at this team with LaVine, Parker, Markkanen we've been thinking offense, spread the court and shoot and score. But then Boylen came in and—it is just one game and on the road—played more deliberately, though it came with more of the passion management had talked about. Passion comes more on the defensive end since offense usually is more flair. Sure, Oladipo was out, but the Bulls were impressive taking Indiana out of much of what they tried. Can it continue? Will it make sense? Can someone untie the Bulls from the tracks of defeat with the train speeding right toward them? If they need work on defense, I promise to work on my metaphors.
I do not blame Hoiberg for the team's problems, I blame management. They made a wrong hire with Hoiberg. Mistakes happen on management's part, but this was an obvious mistake at the time of his hiring. Then they give him Wade and Rondo for one season, trade Jimmy, injuries affecting this team for this year, and then expect him to meet expectations? I do not see a winning formula with GarPax in charge. I never saw one with Hoiberg as coach. Boylen seems like a fine pick for the rest of this year as he is a veteran.
Sam: It's not like the Bulls were hoping it turned out this way. I know our social media based economy likes firings, suspension, general banishment, punishment and ill on others. If they did the wrong thing in hiring Hoiberg, which I didn't see as a mistake, then by your logic they are correcting their mistake. I know passions inflame about a lack of success, and understandably so, but it does seem they took the right lane for the future in the Butler trade. Which was much condemned, and now is in Minnesota. When we were there a few weeks ago, Thibodeau was being booed. The Minnesota staff told me they started playing the music early during the intros to drown out the booing of Thibodeau because of the Butler trade. Though they seem to have recovered some. No one gets them all right, so let's say they should at least get to see it through. After all, this basically is the start of the first run after extending the Rose/Thibodeau thing as far as they could and being defeated mostly by injury.
The basic reason ownership makes coaching changes is they want someone different; simple as that. There are all sorts of stories out there from wanting to change the culture to Hoiberg losing the respect of the team. No one believed he would be the coach once the team started turning the corner anyway but the timing of the firing seems a bit odd.
Sam: The Bulls say they saw signs that were worrisome for when the team was whole again; I'd assume Hoiberg disagreed. I'd expect both sides to feel that way. I know few employees who believe their bosses are right and they are wrong. There probably was an inevitability attached to Hoiberg's tenure given the continuing changes in personnel and ongoing evaluations. So perhaps the timing was appropriate looking at it that way: They're likely to make a change, so then why delay it? Get on with the direction you want to head. Paxson said that is not exactly correct, but from your point of view that would make sense. If you don't believe Fred is your future, why delay?
I confess, I was completely surprised by the firing of Fred Hoiberg this week, especially given the injury epidemic that has sidelined so many of the team's top performers.
On the other hand, as I read the announcement on Bulls.com, and the comments of my fellow Bulls' fans, I was reminded that there's a lot we fans don't see. John Paxson cited competitive issues in the firing. I suspect some of the evidence of that was found in team practices, but Jim Boylen's comments about defensive rebounding rang a bell with me. I've been amazed at how often the team has been out-rebounded by opponents, and how often the margins are obscene. I've been wondering if that's a product of guys like Jabari and Wendell being so focused on defending their man that they are a half-step slow in getting rebounding position, but now we'll see if improvement can come through harder work.
I guess what bothered me most of all was the many comments from fans criticizing Gar and Pax for their management of the team and the roster. To me, I think they're managing the rebuild of the team about as well as it can be managed. Nobody rebuilds in a year or two, not the teams that aspire to championships, anyway. I'd hate to see an ill-informed mob of fans and self-appointed "experts" in the media run these guys out of town before they have a decent chance to finish the job.
Sam: Who else would appoint us experts if it weren't us? It's fashionable to blame ownerships and managements—and coaches, of course—when there isn't success. They understand. They may not like it, but it is part of the job. New GMs and coaches always are told to unplug the TV and stop the newspaper delivery, assuming there still is some anymore. The Bulls, in effect, said this week we see misjudgments we may have made and we are intending to remedy them. I know there's a lot of talk about multiple coaches, but Skiles and Thibodeau were great hires, two of the best of the decade in the NBA. Both are top coaches who made the team better. You have to rebound from circumstances out of your control, like the Pistons misjudging Ben Gordon's value or Rose's knee injury. A rebuild started a year ago. Many fans have been demanding a 76ers-like rebuilding, but that covered five years averaging about 22 wins. And where would they be without Embiid, who was No. 3 because some said he'd never play with foot problems. He did miss two years, and if the Bulls picked a guy who missed his first two years hurt what would you say after one year? That being a 76ers team that never had the conference finals run the Bulls had just a few years earlier when they were only a LeBron-going-West away from a Finals for several seasons. We should see where this is going. So far as you note with Markkanen, LaVine, Dunn and Carter it is hardly the worst of scenarios. So everyone said they needed a better coach. We'll see if they got one.
Randy Brown won championships with the Bulls. So I understand fully why he would step down after Fred Hoiberg got fired/Jim Boylen became new head coach. Whatever Jim was offering, Randy wasn't agreeing with.
Sam: To me that was the most surprising decision of the week. Randy had been with management and on the staff the last decade and seemed to revel in just being part of the organization. He'd been recruited in college by Gar and appeared to have good relationships with everyone. Everyone at their job—as I have discussed regarding the injustices of life—wants to be respected and appreciated. Though Boylen said he valued Randy, it was true Randy was almost being left standing when the music stopped. He was being moved to the second row of coaches (yes, that's another issue) behind the head coach and understandably resented the perception of the lack of regard.
Though it's common for every new coach coming in to bring in new staff close to him or her. Boylen actually was willing to keep all the Bulls assistants, at least for now. I don't know if any lack of regard was the situation, and I have been there myself, watching others promoted or getting better assignments and being upset. You often have to stand way back to realize how good your job is to accept what you regard as inappropriate treatment of the moment. Though there's also a case to be made that you undervalue yourself if you don't fight for what you believe you deserve. And then the Catch-22 logic in that that if you are the kind of person who would accept that, then maybe you aren't the kind of achiever your company may want. Life's choices are never very clear. I didn't speak with Randy, but others who have indicated he is satisfied he did what was best for him. He certainly has the resume to remain in the NBA.
My main Bulls cause is patience with Jabari, and relax on the draft hype. I actually think those are entwined. It's clear that Jabari isn't totally back into shape. It's clear he goes off script and will disregard his teammates while trying to take things into his own hands. It's clear this is a problem. But I also think it's clear he's getting better. The same way Zach did after his ACL. I'm frustrated/surprised at the idea that a guy with so much to prove would come into the season still needing to get into better shape, especially one that carries the obvious chip on his shoulder he shows during interviews.
Jabari has been a star his whole life. More than any player on this roster. I guarantee you he doesn't think anything has changed from college to now. He obviously sees himself as a star. I like it. If I was a reporter I'd hold him to it. If he gets pissy about reporters critiquing him so much the obvious response is, "but don't we all agree that you're a top 2 pick?" Let him keep that chip on his shoulder. Some people need that anger to drive them.
I also said the Jabari situation was entwined with the draft. The Duke trio is obviously the most fun to consider, headed by star player Zion Williamson. I feel one thing that hasn't been talked enough is how similar Jabari was to Zion as going into the draft. Zion seems definitely more powerful than Jabari was at that age, but he still was an undersized fringe forward that dominated college with great basketball IQ and strong overall game but scouts worried may not have an obvious fit in the NBA. I'm cheering for both these guys, but I just want people to consider that Jabari was that beloved prospect just a few years ago. And he went to Duke too. I just don't know how people can hate Jabari so much and then in the same sentence say 'Zion will save us.'
Sam: He continues to be that conundrum for all of us. Some games you want him traded immediately and some games you think he's the free agent star the Bulls never could get. He hummed the right tune this time publicly about the move back to a reserve role, but who knows as guys return and minutes decrease, especially with Portis. But you make some valid points. First that many were judging LaVine harshly last season and this summer I got more mail against matching the offer than for it. I don't hear any of that now as the consensus seems to be the Bulls got a steal. I think Zach has been great. This change to Boylen may affect him the most the way he was playing under Hoiberg, but you can see already how hard he tried to do what was asked and how unselfish he's been for a guy who has been by far the team's best and most reliable scorer. Plus, it was clear to see in the post game sessions how unnerved and affected he was by the losing. The guy does care and appears to be doing everything he can to contribute to winning. He's a real keeper. And as you note, Jabari is coming off two ACLs. So what's the hurry? Of course, part of that has been how much he's acted like he never had one. Pride? Defiance? Resentment? Anger? Who knows since he never says much of anything. And interesting point about the Duke kid. He sure looks like a star, yes, like Jabari did in college. And the Bulls sure have a lot of power forwards and he doesn't look much like a true wing player, either. Though you'd probably worry about that later. Of course, we all need to remember the poorest six teams have similar draft lottery odds and the poorest three, among whom the Bulls are part of now, all have exactly the same odds for the No. 1 pick. So having the worst record this year is a better chance of getting the fourth pick than ever. Maybe Jabari is the answer to adding another star. If he isn't traded.
Certainly it will be some time for the Fred firing and Boylen appointment dust to settle but I would like your current view on the probability of a Portis trade before the deadline. I have been a Portis fan from the beginning. He has developed nicely and Gar/Pax state he is part of their "core". However, I think it's doubtful the Bulls would pay up for a sixth man at this time in the rebuild when he would most probably command a starter's salary and position with another team. He was never really a center/5 and the power forward slot is filled with Lauri and Carter thinks/states he is also a 4 and then there is Porter. A contending team could have an injury at the position and Portis then becomes more appealing. He might not command a ton in trade, maybe a little more in a Lopez/Holiday type expiring salary package, but something is better than nothing if the Bulls don't/can't resign him.
Sam: I felt he should have taken the money. I know the Hoiberg/Boylen week has dominated the conversation, but there really are some larger issues that make this summer really interesting and why I don't see anything major occurring for this season. I agree power forward seems to be 5 p.m. on the Kennedy with Carter somewhat undersized, though several teams and even the East leading Raptors don't start a big center. It can be done. Actually, you can pay Portis coming off the bench. You probably can't pay he and Parker big money as backups, but you need to see who fits where, if one maybe is a starter, where Lauri also fits. It's not an awful thing to have a bunch of versatile guys about 6-8 to 6-10. That's why getting a few months of games with these guys together healthy seems to be what the Bulls are hoping (and praying) for the rest of this season. It's too soon to make those sort of major judgments without really seeing how they'd work together. And soon Dunn also comes up for a possible extension. What about point guard?
I heard Dunn and Portis are returning soon. Do you think they are a decent team with everyone healthy?
Sam: Well, Vegas didn't as pre-injury, the over/under for Bulls wins this season being 28. We'd all been thinking we'd bet that over and retire for life. Good none of us could afford the flight to Vegas in the preseason. How'd they know there'd be so many injuries? I think back to that opening Media Day conference when Paxson said he didn't know what the season portended, but at least the team finally was healthy. For three days, as I recall. Not many of us saw a .500 team, but I figured 37,38 wins and at least in the hunt for a playoff spot into April and maybe even the last spot if the bottom of the East was beaten up, which now appears to be the situation.
I can see both Dunn and Portis playing this weekend. Perhaps not both games, but each at least one and then another tuneup game Monday before the trip to Mexico City for the game with Orlando, which is an East surprise later next week. The Bulls with everyone healthy seem like an East playoff team. Dunn, LaVine, who is playing like a near All-Star, Holiday or Parker, Markkanen and Carter Jr., who has been one of the better rookies, stacks up as every bit competitive with Orlando, Charlotte and Washington, two of whom now are in playoff position. I had the Bulls better than Charlotte and Orlando to start the season, and with that five/six group certainly as good. I know things look bad in a firing, but even with the amazing G-league lineups they were playing, the Bulls had lost five games by three points or fewer, second most in the league. Though 15 games under .500, where the Bulls are now, is tough to climb out of. Charlotte is currently eighth in the East on a pace for 38 wins. The Bulls would have to go 33-24 to get to 38 wins. That's about 58 percent winning. It's really not impossible with likely two spots open in the East, and I expect Detroit to join them, making three for about eight teams. Here they come?
What do you think about the rookie class so far? Comparable to 2003? Luka Doncic has been on a tear this season.
Sam: If the Bulls continue on their pace, you can only hope 2019 will be as good. The NBA is, of course, skewing younger, as is all professional sports. It once was routine for rookie quarterbacks in the NFL to sit for two or three years. Stars like Aaron Rodgers. Now rookies are rushed into the lineup amidst fan demands. So it is in the NBA now as the Bulls have a 19-year-old starting at center with half the other top 10 picks also starting. Since I did a rookie analysis a month ago, Memphis' Jaren Jackson has taken a leap along with Collin Sexton, Allonzo Trier and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. That's nine rookies playing major roles and averaging in double figures, which harkens back to the times of Wilt, Oscar and Elgin coming into the NBA. Doncic almost certainly will get Rookie of the Year, especially with Dallas making this impressive turnaround, and other than Trier they're all 19 or 20. It's at least another rookie All-Star game for a Bulls player.
Come on... Dream with me a little.
Boylen left San Antonio the summer after Kawhi landed on Pachulia's foot. Kawhi is an unrestricted free agent next June. The Bulls a strong 3 away from being a contender in a still-shaky East? Come on, admit it. It was meant to be! Chris Granner
Sam: If so, c'mon, Paxson has to get Executive of the Year, right?
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