As Bulls near tipoff, is there method to Jim Boylen's alleged madness?

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As Bulls near tipoff, is there method to Jim Boylen's alleged madness?

The Bulls took Monday off. On Tuesday, Jim Boylen will ask his players to vote for team captains.

These events aren’t unrelated.

Boylen has said many times he wants a player-coached team. And while there’s still no word on whether this season’s team will feature a leadership committee, this week’s events won’t draw the loud headlines which that oft-mocked practice of Boylen’s did last season.

But perhaps they should.

Monday’s day off follows Boylen’s Sunday disclosure that he, management and Otto Porter Jr.’s camp are in positive communication regarding possible load management for the crucial veteran. And is now the time to mention the Bulls also took last Friday off?

What happened to the alleged, old school disciplinarian who sprinkled push-ups and wind sprints into lengthy practices when he first took over for Fred Hoiberg last season? Boylen is about accountability and doing what he thinks is right.

Now that the roster is more fully populated with players who believe similarly, he can balance competitiveness with common sense.

This isn’t solely about the arrivals of no-nonsense pros like Tomas Satoransky, Thaddeus Young and Luke Kornet or the youthful exuberance of Coby White and Daniel Gafford. It also isn’t to say Boylen has gone soft.

Players have consistently talked about how hard they go when then do practice. After Saturday’s lengthy and spirited session, Young exhaled with a smile as he walked off the court and over to address reporters.

What it is to say is that Boylen clearly spelled out his plan last December.

“There’s been a little shock and awe here in the last seven days,” Boylen said then, in one of many quotes which, without full context, could be easily mocked. “And there’s an adjustment to that.”

There’s no denying that Dec. 9, 2018, represented a significant news story. A day that started with a group text exchange with players talking other players out of boycotting practice and continued with several hours of team meetings is nothing but that.

But as the team traveled to Mexico City for NBA Global Games and an eventual loss to the Orlando Magic, the outside perception of the mood of the Bulls didn’t fully square with the reality. Players as varied as veteran Robin Lopez and second-year forward Lauri Markkanen backed Boylen.

And by season’s end, Zach LaVine offered to pay Boylen’s fines for his ejection for a dust-up with Clippers coach Doc Rivers in Los Angeles.

Boylen’s care factor for his players played out with him visiting them in various locales throughout the offseason. That included trips to Europe for Markkanen and Satoransky and a visit to the Bahamas with LaVine.

“We’ve had a tough camp,” LaVine said recently. “But you can see how much guys care for each other. The coaches have been doing a good job of putting us in the best positions to succeed.”

At the onset of voluntary September workouts, Boylen passed out T-shirts to all players that read: “Extreme Ownership: Conditioning. Communicating. Competing.” The phrase is now emblazoned on the padding for each basket stanchion at Advocate Center. He also awarded the winner of that month’s 1-on-1 tournament with a wrestling-style championship belt.

Some of Boylen’s methods or words may seem cornball and easily mocked. He unapologetically talks about spirit and playing hard to represent the franchise and spirit, stuff that doesn’t fly for everyone who follows pro sports.

But this training camp, the Heat suspended James Johnson for failing to meet conditioning requirements and Dion Waiters for conduct detrimental to the team. Nobody called Pat Riley old school.

This isn’t to equate Boylen with Riley, one of the most decorated coaches and executives in league history. It’s to say, like Riley, Boylen believes in what’s right and what’s wrong.

Boylen also had conditioning requirements for all Bulls to begin training camp. Each player passed.

The Bulls will be back to work Tuesday. Inevitably, this season will feature bumps in the road, adversity or controversy that will create more headlines. Most any pro sports season does.

Boylen won’t change his belief system then and hasn’t now. It’s just the trust factor between him and his players has grown.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: LaVine turns in an All Star performance as the Bulls beat the Clippers

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, See Red Fred joins Big Dave and Matt Peck. The guys talk about some big plays down the stretch by Zach LaVine and Denzel Valentine. Plus a great defensive job by Kris Dunn on Paul George. (1:30) See Red Fred states his case for more playing time for Denzel Valentine. (4:00) Plus what's going to happen when Otto Porter and Chandler Hutchison come back. (8:00) The guys share some concerns about Coby White in the short term. (10:30) See Red Fred tells you about 3 players who have exceeded expectations this year. (13:00) Plus the guys debate whether Zach LaVine should compete in the dunk contest or 3 point competition. (18:00) They discuss the impact that Kris Dunn has had on the defensive end of the floor. (20:30) Plus See Red Fred lays out his blueprint for the Bulls to make the playoffs. (23:30) Plus the guys make a wager regarding the rest of the season. (25:00)

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders


Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Bulls down Clippers, post 1st victory over winning team with strong finish

Just over two hours before tipoff, in his first public comments since Media Day, executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson talked about how Jim Boylen’s teaching and coaching hasn’t always translated from the practice floor and film room to games.

Could the Bulls’ first victory this season over a winning team be a step?

And don’t mention that the Clippers played without Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams in the Bulls’ 109-106 victory, secured on Zach LaVine’s three-point play with 2 seconds to play.

“Well, we didn’t have (Otto Porter Jr.) or Hutch (Chandler Hutchison) or (Daniel) Gafford,” Boylen said. “So we can ‘Yeah, but’ it a little bit too.”

Bravado aside, there’s stuff on which the Bulls can build here.

LaVine posted his sixth 30-point game and ended a week filled with closing misses with a game-winner in which he powered through a Montrezl Harrell foul on a nice misdirection play involving Kris Dunn. Lauri Markkanen tied his season-high with 17 rebounds while posting his third double-double of the season. Denzel Valentine, playing all but two seconds of the fourth, hit a huge tying 3-pointer in the final minute and scored a season-high 16 points. Thad Young tied his season-high with 17 points.

And Dunn was everywhere, relishing the challenge of guarding Paul George down the stretch and winning a crucial battle for a 50-50 ball that led to Valentine’s tying shot.

“That was a huge moment,” Boylen said.

So was Valentine closing a game.

“I just thought we needed some more shooting on the floor,” Boylen said. “We’ve wrestled with defensive lineups, offensive lineups. We try to mingle them a little bit. I just thought we needed someone to make a big shot. And he did.”

Valentine has now scored in double figures off the bench in five of six games.

“I’m very confident in my abilities,” Valentine said. “I was just waiting for the ball to come my way. Zach is our best player. So the ball’s going to be in his hands. But shoot, I’m ready for it. I love those moments. I love to make those shots.”

Dunn, who finished a plus-22, defended George as he missed a good look for a tying 3-pointer. George scored 10 points in just over 7 minutes in the fourth but missed all three attempts following Valentine’s tying shot.

“I love it,” Dunn said of guarding great players. “I know my niche on this team is to guard. And I take pride in that. It feels good to go against a big-time player and be able to get stops towards the end.”

Markkanen actually received credit for the rebound that Dunn kept alive to lead to Valentine’s tying shot, which Dunn said Markkanen teased him about. Dunn finished with nine points, nine rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals.

But his two biggest plays didn’t even crash the box score. He won the 50-50 ball to lead to Valentine’s tying shot and then confused the Clippers’ defense by slipping a screen on LaVine’s game-winner.

“I knew Zach was going to get downhill,” Dunn said. “Because once I did it, I saw Paul George look at me.”

LaVine couldn’t believe how much space he had to operate.

“I’ll take it,” he said. “Once I saw the lane open up, I think there were like 5 seconds left. We were trying to get the last shot. But once the lane opened up, I tried to get a one-on-one. He’s a tough dude. I knew I could attack his body.”

LaVine missed game-winning attempts on an isolation 3-pointer against the Warriors and over a double-team against the Raptors. His three-point play offered a dose of redemption for a player who is never afraid to fail.

“You’re not going to be perfect. As much as people are going to show more of the bad than the good, I’ve had a lot of good times in the clutch as well,” LaVine said. “I try to make the right play for us to win. And I did that tonight.”

For one night, matters were more positive. The Bulls closed out a game against a good team and received multiple contributions while doing so.

Heck, Boylen even downplayed Paxson’s vote of confidence.

“We understand what we’re trying to do. We’re in step on what we’re asking our guys to do and play like and work like and care like,” the coach said. “I’m thankful for it. But I wouldn’t expect anything less.”