Bulls dismiss Boylan as interim coach

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- John Paxson used words like "disappointing" and "disturbing" while describing the Chicago Bulls' nightmare of a season. The general manager talked about pride and accountability, too.

"I'm most accountable," he said.

But Jim Boylan took the fall.

The Bulls fired their interim coach on Thursday, likely the first of several changes after a disappointing season in which individual agendas wrecked whatever chance the team had at getting back to the playoffs.

While Paxson went out of his way to praise Boylan and said there was no "defining moment" that led to his dismissal, it was clear a change was coming. That happened during a morning meeting at the team's practice facility, and Boylan left without commenting.

"It really just came down to the fact that I think we need the option to look at things differently," Paxson said. "I want to now be able to explore candidates and listen to different philosophies on how to [use] our personnel."

The firing was the first move of what figures to be a busy offseason for a team that finished 11th in the Eastern Conference just one season after reaching the second round of the playoffs.

The Bulls won 49 games last season, but took a big step backward in 2007-'08, finishing 33-49.

They were 24-32 under Boylan, who was promoted from assistant to his first NBA head coaching job after Chicago fired Scott Skiles in December.

"I was brought in here in the middle of the season," Boylan said a day before the Bulls ended his tenure. "It's kind of a tough situation. A lot of things happened."

Still, Boylan described his experience as "fun."

"It was full of all kinds of experiences -- some good, some not so good," he said. "Sitting in the head coach's seat was comfortable and enjoyable. I loved the challenge."

Paxson said he doesn't "have any one person in mind" to replace Boylan and that NBA head coaching experience is not required. He's willing to consider an assistant or college coach. Former Indiana and Detroit coach Rick Carlisle might be considered, as well as Boston assistant Tom Thibodeau.

A year ago, the Bulls were preparing for what turned out to be a first-round sweep of Miami and their first series victory since the Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen era. They pushed Detroit to six games in the second round, but the optimism they brought to training camp seemed to disappear just as the season began.

Luol Deng and Ben Gordon turned down five-year contract extensions worth more than $50 million, and Kobe Bryant trade rumors only added to the angst. The Bulls got off to another slow start, as in the previous few years -- but couldn't break out of it this time.

"At times, this year, we let things bother us that I thought we were past," Boylan said. "I felt we had the formula for how to be successful and everybody understood it, but it seems like as you reflect back on the season, that wasn't the case."

The Bulls were 9-16 when they fired Skiles. They missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season, when Skiles took over early on for Bill Cartwright and Chicago finished 23-59. Skiles led the Bulls to the playoffs the next three seasons.

But neither he nor Boylan could turn things around this year.

The losses piled up, players lashed out. The hard-nosed defense and unselfish play of the previous three years never surfaced. It was, Paxson said, as if the Bulls "lost our identity as a team -- and our spirit."

Guards Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon said Boylan was in an obviously difficult situation.

"A lot of things in this league aren't fair," Hinrich said. "[Boylan] kind of got dealt a tough situation. The record is what it is. We're done here. It's just a position we didn't want to be in."

Boylan dealt with several tough situations this season.

Rookie Joakim Noah was suspended in January after a verbal outburst at assistant coach Ron Adams in practice. Initially a one-game suspension, his teammates voted to extend it to two. A short time later, Noah and Ben Wallace exchanged words following a blowout loss to Orlando.

Tyrus Thomas, apparently unhappy with his playing time, skipped practice and was handed a two-game suspension last month.

Chris Duhon missed a March 9 shootaround after being spotted the night before in Durham, N.C., at the North Carolina-Duke game. He was fined, benched for one game and inactive for another.

Bulls officials were not happy with his reaction -- "I haven't been playing a lot anyway," he said. It was true. Duhon's minutes had been limited after Larry Hughes' arrival with Drew Gooden in the three-team deal that sent Wallace to Cleveland.

And Andres Nocioni blew up at Boylan after being lifted in the second quarter of a game against Indiana late last month and got sent to the locker room. Nocioni apologized two days later.

Paxson called the outbursts "disturbing" and "out of character."

To top it off, players did not develop the way he anticipated.

Deng, who looked like a budding star last season, missed 16 games in January and February with left Achilles' tendinitis after sitting out three in November with lower back pain. He averaged 17.0 points and 6.3 rebounds.

Hinrich also struggled, averaging a career-low 11.5 points and 6.0 assists. Gordon, the team's leading scorer, saw his average drop from 21.4 points to 18.6.

"I do think we need a different, or new, type of vibe with our team," Paxson said. "A different kind of energy."