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.