Bulls

'Young Bull' Collin Sexton might be the next piece for the young Bulls

'Young Bull' Collin Sexton might be the next piece for the young Bulls

The Bulls’ youth movement is underway and in full swing. Only the Suns and Sixers had a younger Opening Night roster, and by season’s end their four leading scorers were 24 years or younger. Bobby Portis and his 199 career games is the elder statesman of that bunch, and they’ll become more youthful with two first-round picks in the 2018 NBA Draft (and Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez trade candidates with expiring contracts).

Tuesday’s lottery drawing went against the Bulls, bumping down from No. 6 to 7 as the Kings moved to No. 2, they’ll still have options after the first six names go off the board. John Paxson appears set on taking the best player available when they go on the clock June 21st, and while he doesn’t exactly fit a positional need, Alabama point guard Collin Sexton could top the Bulls’ big board and give them what they “need” more than anything: talented basketball players.

A top 10 recruit in the country, Sexton committed to Alabama in November 2016, in part because of the guidance he’d receive from head coach Avery Johnson, who played 16 seasons in the NBA and led the Mavericks to an NBA Finals appearance in 2006, winning 440 games in seven seasons with Dallas and later the Nets.

That tutelage paid off, both from a collegiate perspective and for his NBA prospects. Sexton led the Crimson Tide to their first 20-win season since 2013, their first Associated Press Top 25 appearance since 2012 and their first NCAA Tournament victory since 2006. Though he was known in recruiting and SEC basketball circles, Sexton joined the national conversation in late November when he scored 40 points in a loss to Minnesota in which the Crimson Tide finished the game with three players.

Sexton’s next national headlines came in March, when he went on an absolute tear in the postseason. With his team squarely on the bubble, Sexton went the length of the floor in 4.4 seconds and hit a floater at the buzzer to beat Texas A&M – the floater accounted for two of his 27 points. The following day he dropped 31 on SEC regular season champ and rival Auburn in another upset win. Sexton blew past Virginia Tech in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 25 points on 14 shots while handing out six assists. He even managed 17 points on 50 percent shooting against juggernaut Villanova in a second round exit.

In five postseason games – Texas A&M, Auburn, Kentucky, Virginia Tech and Villanova – Sexton averaged 24.2 points on 53 percent shooting, 4.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists. A blur in transition, physical at the rim and a hound defensively, the 19-year-old saved his best basketball for last and showed NBA scouts that his game is made for the next level. He said Thursday at the NBA Draft Combine that he has his coach, Johnson, to thank for that.

“He was a big part of my success because he put me in the right positions this past year,” Sexton said. “He put me in a lot of pick and rolls and stuff and put the ball in my hand and allowed me to play through adversity.

“He made me want to work that much harder because in practice he’d be on me tough. If I throw a left-hand pass, a one-hand pass, he’s on me. So he really helped me out a whole lot.”

Sexton wasn’t asked to do much perimeter shooting in his lone year at Alabama. Whereas fellow top point guards in the class like Trae Young (3.7 makes per game) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (40 percent on 57 attempts; 11 of 22 in his last 10 games) used the long ball, Sexton shot just 33.6 percent on 131 attempts. His efficiency went up during that run in March, but he’s still ball-dependent and needs to work playing off the ball.

He’s been working on his perimeter shooting and mentioned Chris Paul as someone he models his game after. Paul, of course, is sharing the floor with James Harden in Houston and has subsequently had to improve his game off the ball.

“The NBA’s evolving. You’ve got to be able to play both positions,” Sexton said of backcourt versatility. “You can’t have the ball in your hands all the time.”

Still, he averaged 19.2 points, got to the free throw line 7.6 times per game and made 44 3-pointers. He won’t struggle to score at the next level, though at just 19 years old there’s still some fine-tuning needed. He measured just 6-foot-1.5 in shoes at Thursday’s combine, but his aggressiveness, quick feet and athleticism made him one of the league’s better defenders. He’s ready to play from Day 1.

And he would on a Bulls team that likes what they have in Kris Dunn but isn’t against upgrading in that aforementioned critical area: talent. Sexton brings a surplus of it to the table, both in his playmaking ability and transition game. Plus, in an era of positionless basketball the only reason to have two ball handlers on the floor at once is because you couldn’t find a third.

And if Sexton’s attributes and skill set weren’t enough to make him the perfect fit in Chicago, he has an apt nickname: Young Bull. Sure, it’s related to his bully-style basketball at the rim and the way he pressures on defense, but during a time when the Bulls want to get younger for the future, drafting a young Bull makes too much sense as the Bulls stock up on talent to push them forward.

Early crossroads for Jim Boylen as an NBA head coach

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USA TODAY

Early crossroads for Jim Boylen as an NBA head coach

Jim Boylen has been an NBA head coach for less than a week, but already he finds himself dealing with an unhappy locker room. Boylen says he’s willing to sacrifice short-term harmony for long term success, but it’s pretty clear a number of players are unhappy with his methods.

After holding three practices last week that lasted over two hours and then back-to-back games against Oklahoma City and Boston, Boylen decided to hold a noon practice on Sunday after the worst loss in franchise history, 133-77 to the Celtics. Boylen told reporters Saturday night he benched the starters for the final 21 minutes of that game so they would be fresh for practice on Sunday.

But things didn’t exactly go according to plan at the Advocate Center. The players decided to hold a team meeting without the coaches, and eventually invited the coaches in to let them now how they were feeling.

Rookie Wendell Carter Jr. gave the most expansive comments about what happened during the meeting.

“The big main topic for that whole meeting was being truthfully honest and direct. I feel like everyone was very direct with one another, very honest," Carter Jr. said. "Everybody told each other how we really, really felt about what happened last night, how we feel about each in terms of the team, how we feel about everybody as a whole.”

The meetings went on for almost two hours, with Boylen eventually deciding to call off the scheduled practice. Carter indicated the players asked the coaches if they could meet instead of practice, but Boylen offered a different explanation.

“I think it was just a communication, a little bit of both”, Boylen said to reporters. “This is what I think is necessary today. And they felt they needed a voice to talk, too. And that’s cool. That’s good. This is a family thing. This is open lines of communication.”

Okay. A pair of meetings makes perfect sense after such a devastating loss at the end of a tumultuous week. But the Chicago Tribune’s Bulls’ beat reporter K.C. Johnson added another layer to the story when he reported that according to his sources, the players were communicating via group text on whether they would even show up at the Advocate Center for the scheduled practice.

According to Johnson’s sources, the decision was eventually made to hold a team meeting, then meet with the coaching staff.

Zach LaVine was clearly upset in the locker room following the Celtics’ disaster about being benched for the final 21 minutes, but he told reporters Sunday the team meeting allowed the Bulls to clear the air and hopefully re-group for Monday night’s home game against Sacramento.

“I think we needed to get on the same page," LaVine said. "We needed to get a lot of stuff off our chests and be real, be transparent. And I think moving forward that will help us.”

Still, it’s clear there’s a disconnect between the demanding style of the new head coach and what the players had experienced previously under Fred Hoiberg. Asking players to endure training-camp style practices is one thing, but pushing them to the point of considering a boycott can’t possibly be what the front office hoped for in making the coaching change last Monday.

Boylen has made it clear he will do things his way in his first NBA head coaching opportunity, but he’ll probably need to make some adjustments based on the events of the weekend. You can expect Boylen will be meeting with the front office to map out some dos and don’ts in the very near future.

The Bulls should get an emotional lift from the return of Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis in the near future. Portis is planning on playing Monday against Sacramento and Dunn could make his return in that game as well.

The best thing that could happen for everyone right now is a week’s worth of solid play. But with a trip to Mexico City scheduled for mid-week, followed by road games in San Antonio and Oklahoma City, the NBA schedule makers aren’t really doing a struggling team any favors.

The first crisis in the Jim Boylen coaching era has been managed, at least temporarily. But with more losses sure to come, the players and the head coach have to put more effort into building a stronger alliance. It’s the only way this arranged marriage will be able to survive the season.

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Report: Some Bulls players debated attending Sunday practice; meeting held to vent frustrations

Report: Some Bulls players debated attending Sunday practice; meeting held to vent frustrations

The Bulls suffered their worst loss in franchise history on Saturday, falling to the Celtics by 56 points at the United Center. Head coach Jim Boylen pulled all five of his starters at once on two separate occassions, ultimately sitting them for the final 21 minutes of the game.

Boylen's move did not sit well with some players, with Zach LaVine expressing his frustration after the game. Boylen said holding a practice Sunday would be more valuable than playing his starters in a game that the team would ultimately lose anyhow.

According to a report, some players debated attending practice at all.

Ultimately, the players did show up to the Advocate Center, but two meetings were in place of a practice. While the plan was to practice, Wendell Carter Jr. said the players approached the coaching staff about holding a meeting instead.

"We both agreed upon something, the players and coaches," Carter Jr. said. "We came to them as men, we talked to them and told them how we felt, and they responded very well."

Carter Jr. said a players-only meeting was held first, with the players and coaching staff meeting together afterwards. LaVine and Justin Holiday led the meeting with the coaching staff, though Carter Jr. said every player and coach chimed in.

"I’m glad what we did today and I feel like it was very productive even though we weren’t on the court," he said. "We did some productive things in terms of having a meeting as a team."

"I think it was something that we needed to do and I’m happy with the results of it," LaVine said. "I think we just all needed to get on the same page. We needed to get a lot of stuff off our chest and be real, be transparent."

"This is what I think is necessary today and they felt they needed a voice and talk too," Boylen said. "And that’s cool, that’s good. This is a family thing, this is open lines of communication."

Carter Jr. would not reveal exactly what was said in the two meetings, only revealing that they were productive. He reiterated that the main topic of the meeting centered on the players and coaches being honest with one another about how they felt following Saturday night.

"I feel like everybody was very direct with one another," he explained, "Very honest and everybody told each other how we really, really felt about what happened last night, how we feel about each other in terms of team, how we feel about everybody as a whole."

LaVine said that the players and coaching staff are "100 percent" on the same page following the meeting, while Boylen mentioned there is an adjustment period going on since he was promoted to head coach.

"We’re still learning about each other. I’ve moved over the 18 inches and they’re still learning how I want it," he said. "There’s been a little shock and awe here in the last seven days. And there’s an adjustment to that, and that’s okay."

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