Earlier this year, John Paxson uttered the word “playoffs” one minute and 13 seconds into his Media Day Press conference. Unlike the previous season, the Bulls’ front office made the goal for 2019-20 immediately clear.
But ever since that moment, the Bulls have walked right onto a moving sidewalk in the opposite direction. Effortless backtracking. John Paxson may have confronted the topic when he sat down for individual interviews with Chicago media sources about a month ago, but nothing came across quite confidently:
The way Jim is wired, we’re all wired, why shouldn’t we be sending the message to them to compete for the playoffs? If that’s a pressure you put on people, I’m fine with that. I don’t waver. But I don’t know where that lands. I don’t know if that’s a realistic thing right now. We certainly haven’t played like a team that’s playoff-bound. But 50-some games left, it can change. If it doesn’t, we obviously didn’t achieve something that we thought we could’ve.
I guess Paxson wanted to put pressure on the players. A pressure he’s never felt.
But did the Vice President of Basketball Operations truly believe the Bulls could reach the promised land? Quotes like this make it hard to imagine. And even if he did hold such aspirations for this young Bulls core, did Jim Boylen?
The Bulls head coach has offered the greatest variance in playoff commentary since Bulls Media Day. Check out this path:
Jim Boylen on September 30th, 2019:
“Our goals for the season are to make the playoffs. That’s our goal for the season is to make the playoffs. And every day to prepare like we’re a playoff team. Every day to work like we’re a playoff-bound team. And I’m excited for that. There is no way we were going to stand up here and say we hope we can win 10 more games or we hope we can be better. We want to get to the mountain top.”
Jim Boylen on November 19th, 2019:
“I don’t change my goals,” he said. “We’re going to keep trying to fight for the playoffs, which is what I said Day 1. We’re going to keep doing that — and develop and teach and coach.” (Via Chicago Tribune)
Jim Boylen on January 3rd, 2020:
“We are laying the foundation and building blocks. We’re in a new system with a new team with a new coach. I wanted to be a defensive team. We are. We need to improve our rebounding, our defending without fouling and offense. Those are the things I’m going to work on.” (Via K.C. Johnson).
The latest from Boylen doesn’t sound as if he’s talking about the same team. He has gone from (1) playoffs to (2) playoffs and development to (3) “laying a foundation.”
Heading into this third year of the rebuild, the Bulls should be way past setting the groundwork. A new system, new team, and new coaches are all part of the equation, but that was the case on September 30th, and the solution remained the playoff picture.
The Bulls replacement for Fred Hoiberg wasn’t supposed to start over, he or she was supposed to build on what was already there. Yet, starting over sounds exactly like what Boylen thinks he’s doing … at least now, not then.
Instances like this demonstrate the true lack of accountability that resides within the United Center walls.