Bulls coach Jim Boylen

Kamil Krzaczynski/USA Today Sports

Bernstein: Bulls' 'Mess' Needs Fixing

The moribund Bulls have taken steps back since firing Fred Hoiberg.

Dan Bernstein
January 18, 2019 - 2:33 pm
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(670 The Score) A source close to the Bulls wasted no words when contacted about the moribund team's current situation after its latest drubbing, a 135-105 loss at the hands of the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night that finished off their road trip at 0-5, by a combined margin of defeat of 94 points.

"Our team is a mess right now," the note said.

That's one appropriate word for what we're seeing on the floor, as their offense swings between intentionally inefficient and inexplicably disjointed and their defense displays a rare blend of wrong strategy, lack of effort and non-existent communication.

Clean-up in aisle Bulls.

The Bulls have lost 16 games already under Jim Boylen, eight of those by 17 points or more. These are non-competitive defeats that fly directly in the face of the marching orders given by executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson when he fired coach Fred Hoiberg in early December.

"We need to find a spirit to our group that's been missing and missing for quite some time," Paxson said. "You have to be able to get your identity across to your team, and we just have felt that we're not playing the style with the force that we want our group to play with."

Except that's not happening. The Bulls are getting worse instead of better, happy to fall over when an opponent lands any kind of solid punch.

"You can have a team that plays hard every night no matter who you put out there," Paxson said in December. "That’s energy and passion right there. I don’t care who you’re throwing out there. You have to get your guys to buy in and be connected."

Boylen hasn't only not done that, he's choosing to run antiquated plays at an astonishingly slow pace, seemingly trying to win the 1994 NBA title with a roster built to run. What's more, he admitted after the loss Thursday that he instructed his defenders to drop underneath the Nuggets' screens, essentially daring them to shoot. They took the challenge, hitting 20-of-40 despite entering the game with a 35.3 percentage from distance. Funny how that happens, that an NBA team makes more of them when you decide to leave them open.

"We’re getting blown out every game," Zach LaVine told the K.C. Johnson of the Tribune. "People are licking their chops, looking at us on the schedule, marking this game off. It’s not like it’s going to stop. We have to do something."

It's the something that's the issue. The Bulls fired another coach, they got the impassioned speech from upper management, went through the post-practice wind sprints and now are lifeless and wandering at 10-35, the second-worst record for the franchise through that many games.

Johnson appeared on 670 the Score on Friday morning and was blunt in his assessment. 

"It's bad, it's bad, it's bad, it's bad," he said. "Having covered the Tim Floyd era, I'm sometimes numb to poor play, but this is bad."

Johnson also summed up how bleak this appears to be.

"Now where do you go?" he asked. "What do you do? These are really troubling times for the Bulls. Something's got to break here -- something's got to give, because what's happening right now is not working."

We may look back at this as the beginning of the end of the Paxson regime entirely, after he and general manager Gar Forman seemed to buy more time with the Jimmy Butler trade, only to see the latest rebuild already show signs of curdling. President Michael Reinsdorf could conceivably look for his version of Theo Epstein, a progressive basketball mind in charge of the whole operation who brings new eyes, ears and sensibilities to a directionless franchise that needs to show the rest of the league that they're even playing the same game.

Paxson himself hinted that this could happen in an interview on 670 The Score last month.  

"We all want to win, he said. "But I think if we just stay patient and grounded and we keep long term in mind, which is really my primary responsibility, keep the long term in mind, then we’ll see. And if it doesn’t work, then the people who want me out will probably get their wish."

Dan Bernstein is a co-host of 670 The Score’s Bernstein & McKnight Show in middays. You can follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.​