The Bulls 2018-19 season is officially over, which means that it’s time to evaluate the team’s performance over the past 82 games.
Introducing: front office and coaching staff report cards. We’ll be evaluating members of the front office and coaching staff, and grading how they handled running the Bulls this past season.
Gar Forman & John Paxson: D-
It’s impossible to grade Gar Forman and John Paxson separately.
Because, even though Michael Reinsdorf tries to deny it, there seems to be no difference between their two positions.
Another coach fired, a failed Jabari Parker experiment, and a shot-gun coaching hire have added up to one of the most frustrating seasons in a while.
Let’s start with signing Parker. Signing him was justifiable. Being excited about what he could bring to the team was justifiable. Paying him $20 million a year was not justifiable. Benching him while paying him $20 million a year was not justifiable.
The difference between good and bad team management is the ability to sign players to value contracts. There was never 20 million dollars-worth of value in Parker. And there certainly wasn’t 20 million dollars-worth of value in having Parker warm the bench.
Although a hefty contract came with it, Forman and Paxson did find some redemption for the signing in trading Parker and the expiring contract of Bobby Portis for Otto Porter. That redemption is the only reason the pair is sitting at a D- instead of an F.
There was no redemption, however, for their failures where the coaching staff was concerned. After hiring Fred Hoiberg immediately after firing Tom Thibodeau in 2015, they fired him mid-way through the season in the same classless manner as Thibodeau.
It was clear that Hoiberg wasn’t the right coach for the Bulls’ future, but he had spent the first half of the season with two of his core players out injured. Rather than allowing Hoiberg to work with a full roster, they fired him just as Lauri Markkanen was re-joining the team.
Hoiberg could’ve finished out the season without doing much damage and he surely could’ve been fired before the season started without doing much damage. Instead, Forman and Paxson fired in December, forcing the Bulls to learn a new system halfway through the season and sparking a spiral of drama in the locker room.
And proving that they learned very little from their mistakes with Hoiberg, the pair immediately hired Jim Boylen. No interim tag, no coaching search or interview process. Another spur of the moment hire that shattered team chemistry and proved just how out-of-touch they are with the fanbase.
To top it all off, they recently signed Boylen to a large, long-term coaching deal. Forman and Paxson knew the fans would be mad about it, so they chose to release the news in the middle of the Friday news dump, on a day when both Chicago baseball teams were playing, and the day the Bears started rookie training camp.
The news didn’t get as buried as they had hoped, but it seems clear that Forman and Paxson will continue getting away with bad decisions, decisions that upset fans to the point of boycott, until someone in ownership stops them.
Jim Boylen: C-
If you had a dollar for every time Jim Boylen used the word “spirit,” you’d have just about the same amount of money as Boylen is making from his new contract with the Bulls.
Because talking about intangibles like spirit and heart and representing a team with pride are what Boylen does best. Well, that and doing push-ups with his team.
Boylen has done very little to earn his new contract with the team, but it’s not his fault that the Bulls signed him to it. The blame for Boylen goes firmly on the front office.
That being said, Boylen has made countless mistakes since being hired as head coach in December, starting with the player mutiny that stemmed from his tough practices.
You could argue that NBA players need to toughen up and that the Bulls players were at fault for not performing as well in practice as they should’ve. But running suicides for a week and then being told to practice after the worst loss in franchise history on the second night of a back-to-back would make anyone prone to disagreeing with their coach.
Speaking of that loss, Boylen can be firmly blamed for his handling of lineups. After the starters dug themselves an impossible hole, Boylen pulled all five of them hockey lineup-style. They weren’t fighting for 50-50 balls, they were asleep on defense, and they deserved to be pulled.
But at the start of the second half, Boylen pulled all five starters again after they were on the wrong side of a five-nothing run. The lead had barely grown when Boylen pulled them all at once again. That seemed unfair, considering the talent difference between the Boston Celtics and the Bulls.
At the end of the night, he informed players that they would be practicing the next day, an uncommon practice in the NBA for the second night of a back-to-back. The practice was eventually cancelled in favor of a team meeting, but it was clear that Boylen’s quest to make his players tough had drained them in less than a week.
There are redeeming qualities to Boylen, though. His honesty and openness, the lack of which got his predecessor fired, are vital for a young team. And despite his cliché media answers and disconnect with current NBA trends, Boylen does seem to care for the players he coaches, a quality that he makes clear to them through open communication.
Michael Reinsdorf: F
It would be easy to give Forman and Paxson the worst grade.
It would be easy to give Boylen the worst grade.
But here’s a nice analogy to explain the situation: if a parent hands their small child the keys to a car and the child wrecks the car, you can’t blame the kid. You blame the parent that gave them the keys in the first place. I’m looking at you, Michael Reinsdorf.
The front office has made so many mistakes this year and rather than correcting them or firing the people who made them, Reinsdorf has covered up the mistakes and supported the people that have continued to make them. Hiring the wrong people is one thing. But keeping those wrong people around for an extended period of time for the sake of loyalty is not the right way to run an NBA franchise.
Reinsdorf has sat by quietly while Forman and Paxson have hired their ideal “yes man” coaches and signed mediocre players to superstar contracts. What’s become abundantly clear over the past few seasons is the he’s more concerned with keeping his friends at their positions than he is with making the right business and competitive decisions.
Reinsdorf’s loyalty has driven fans to boycotts and driven them to buy out billboards protesting the team’s decisions in recent years. So when Forman or Paxson or Boylen make a mistake, just remember who is keeping them around. Because that’s the person really to blame.
Follow Katy on Twitter (@katyduffy_) for more Bulls news and opinion.