Bernstein: Boylen, Bulls Must Figure Out Their Goals

(670 The Score) Whatever it is the Bulls are doing right now, it's not going well. After an encouraging run-up to 2019-'20 that saw them acquire solid roster pieces in free agency and the draft, add two respected assistant coaches and adopt an offensive identity more in keeping with current NBA standards, the actual games arrived.

There have been only four wins over bottom-dwellers in the 14 of them and already enough specifically alarming losses to fill a normal full season. The latest came Monday night at the United Center, where the Bulls were outscored 17-2 over the final 6:21 in losing 115-101 to the Bucks.

Afterward, coach Jim Boylen was asked directly if a playoff spot remains their stated goal. 

"We're going to keep trying to fight for the playoffs," Boylen said. "And develop, and teach and coach."

Well, that will be a chore from here on in, accomplishing all those goals. And it's getting increasingly more difficult to reconcile the multiple missions if one is being used as an excuse for not doing enough of the two others. If the wins don't start piling up soon, the playoffs aren't happening.

Executive vice president of baseball operations John Paxson made the goal clear in September.

"We want to compete at a high, high level," Paxson said. "We think we can compete. And when you compete at a high level, you have an ability to be a playoff-caliber team."

On Monday, the Bulls again failed to compete as needed at the most important time, a common thread in their 10 losses. Boylen's Bulls are consistently at their worst when games matter most, ranking dead last in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring margin at -3.3 points. Opponents have made a habit of getting stops and buckets when they need them, once they decide to recognize and work over matchups, getting specific about play calls and defensive rules. And it's often in the wake of those failures that Boylen claims he's developing ahead of winning.

Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine finished a combined 6-of-28 from the floor Monday, and Boylen seems to believe that is just part of some process for a third-year and a sixth-year veteran, respectively.

"I'm going to try to keep developing them to come in and win games, learn how to win," he said. "I believe in both of them. I believe they're important to what we're doing."

Obviously they are, so get on with it if that's the case.

Let's go back to the disaster two weeks ago against the Lakers, a game in which the Bulls blew a 19-point lead and allowed 16 straight points to start the fourth quarter in a 118-112 loss at home. Boylen never called a timeout to stop the bleeding and let a unit of bench players stay on the floor while the scoreboard flipped. Again, he said it was more about something other than winning.

"I'm going to develop this bench and this team," he said. "We're going to develop that second group, and we're going to have a bench here in Chicago."

That's fine. But if it's true, such a commitment to development over coaching situationally to maximize an opportunity for victory will inevitably lead to losses. It's hard to commit to both. What it truly sounds like is some abstract concept of development getting waved around as cover for an ongoing pattern of ineptitude at key points in games, ones being exploited by smarter and more disciplined teams.

Players can't "learn how to win" on their own, blessed by some magical pixie dust that anoints them when the time is right. The proper players deployed for each moment need to be instructed where to be and when to be there and told why. There's a word for the job of doing that.

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