Jim Boylen is in his element. He’s all constant motion and collaboration.
One minute, the former Chicago Bulls coach has his arm around one of the players who is hoping to impress the myriad executives and coaches attending the NBA Draft Combine at Wintrust Arena. The next, he’s gathering the multiple coaches under his domain as combine director to talk about the next drill to run.
Boylen is 10 months and 5 miles removed from doing similar work on a daily basis at the Advocate Center. But in a phone conversation with NBC Sports Chicago, Boylen is upbeat, thankful for this latest opportunity and optimistic about what’s next.
“I care about players and coaches developing,” Boylen said. “I take that very seriously.”
Between COVID-19 testing, players’ media commitments and limited scrimmage time, the league streamlined the event this year. Draft hopefuls participated in athletic testing on Tuesday and Wednesday while also participating in drills designed by Boylen and his staff. Thursday and Friday featured scrimmages.
Between the format changes and centralized location — Wintrust Arena is connected to a hotel where players and coaches and executives stay — the response to this year’s event has been positive. Several executives praised the coaching staff’s work.
“We’ve tried to create and assimilate a current NBA style of play in a current NBA practice plan. And we wanted more dual implication drills without wearing people out for the scrimmages,” Boylen said. “We have limited practice time so the concepts of how to play at this level has to come out in those drills. The shooting beforehand was style-of-play shooting. A pick-and-roll drill features offensive and defensive opportunities and decisions.”
Tabbed for this role by Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations, Boylen began preparation several weeks ago. He’s a veteran of running clinics, having done so in the past for the league in various Basketball Without Borders trips and the like.
Boylen’s preparation culminated with training camp-like meetings on Sunday and Monday with the coaching staff, which includes former NBA and WNBA players in the league’s coaches development program plus current G League coaches. Former Bulls Donyell Marshall and Chris Duhon are among that group, as is former Bulls assistant coach Karen Stack Umlauf.
“Part of this time is to develop these young coaches and show them what the league values,” Boylen said. “Some of them get to be a head coach for a couple games (in scrimmages). That’s a big deal. I’ve tried to give them a menu of things to use and directive of where we’re going.”
Boylen has stayed busy since Artūras Karnišovas’ decision to fire him last August in one of Karnišovas’ first major moves as Bulls executive vice president.
Boylen spent two weeks with Terry Stotts and the Portland Trail Blazers before and during training camp to consult on the team’s defense. He accepted invitations from college coaches to offer input and advice with visits at Toledo, Loyola Marymount and Golf Coast University. He ran Zoom clinics for the NBA for international coaches.
And just recently, Boylen worked the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) International Combine, which filled the void when the Portsmouth (Va.) Invitational fell victim to the pandemic.
“I’ve been teaching all year,” Boylen said. “I just haven’t been with a team.”
With over two decades of NBA experience, Boylen is catching up with plenty of friends and familiar faces this week. He even stopped to chat with Karnišovas, who was sitting courtside this week. And he’s thankful for the support the NBA has provided leading up to and throughout this event.
“It’s an opportunity to teach and lead,” he said. “That’s always exciting to me.”