With about a minute left in the Chicago Bulls’ game against the Charlotte Hornets this past Saturday, it felt like the Bulls’ 2019-20 season was already on the verge of a collapse. Chicago had blown a 14-point first-half lead and seemed destined to waste a monster Zach LaVine performance, a night after LaVine had been benched early by head coach Jim Boylen during an ugly loss to the Miami Heat.
A loss to the Hornets would have dropped the Bulls to 5-12. The poor performance coupled with the apparently frayed LaVine-Boylen relationship spelled disaster for this season.
LaVine, with a little help from his friends, momentarily saved the day with the stunning comeback from eight points down in the final minute to beat the Hornets, capping off a wild week. There was talk suggesting this feel-good win could be a turning point after the disappointing start.
Instead, the Bulls came out Monday at the United Center and got roasted by the struggling Portland Trail Blazers, 117-94. Chicago’s porous defense helped Carmelo Anthony turn back the clock to the tune of 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting. The recently signed veteran badly outplayed Lauri Markkanen, who has been getting outplayed by just about everybody these days.
LaVine, meanwhile, followed up his historic performance with 18 points, five assists and six turnovers. The Bulls shot 9-of-39 from 3-point range and got mauled in the rebounding department, 55-37. Furthermore, both LaVine and Wendell Carter Jr. seemed to take issue with the defensive schemes the team employed.
This latest home disaster dropped Chicago to 3-7 at the United Center. In four of those losses, the Bulls weren’t competitive when the fourth quarter began. In a home loss to the Lakers, the Bulls allowed a 29-4 run to start the fourth quarter to blow a big lead. In a home loss to the Bucks, the Bulls allowed a 17-2 run to close the game. In a home loss to the Nets, the Bulls allowed 41 fourth-quarter points.
Embarrassing losses at home have become the norm under Boylen. Chicago is now 9-31 at the United Center since Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg as head coach last season, and turning around those home struggles were a point of emphasis for Bulls President and COO Michael Reinsdorf in the offseason.
Bulls fans are still waiting to for that to happen, and the fan base is growing restless with Boylen. The Bulls were sold as a potential playoff team this season, so this level of underachieving thus far has led plenty of people to point the finger at Boylen.
According to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf is also getting restless. However, the target of Reinsdorf’s ire apparently isn’t Boylen or even vice president of basketball operations John Paxson, but general manager Gar Forman. Senior advisor Doug Collins is also no Forman fan.
Jettisoning Forman would be a popular move, but Paxson and Boylen should be on the hot seat as well. While the Reinsdorfs are extremely loyal to Paxson, he has been running the Bulls since 2003 with no NBA Finals trips and just one appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Boylen did nothing to deserve the three-year contract extension he got this past offseason, and the fact that he’s one of the lowest-paid coaches in the league should make a firing more palatable to ownership.
Crazy enough, the 6-12 Bulls are still just a game out of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference, so things aren’t totally lost yet and there’s time to turn things around. Still, Chicago certainly doesn’t look the part of a playoff team given the host of ugly losses, the winless record against teams with a record above .500 and the questions regarding whether or not Boylen has already lost the locker room.
With this drama surrounding the Bulls, Wednesday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors becomes important. A win wouldn’t make anybody feel much better since the Warriors are a league-worst 3-15 and effectively playing a G League roster, but a loss could send this Bulls season into a death spiral and potentially portend change in the organization. Whether that’s firing Forman or Boylen or something else altogether, it feels like something has to happen if Chicago can’t beat Golden State, otherwise this much-anticipated season may go down the drain already.