Bulls

Zach LaVine offers words of encouragement for Caris LeVert

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USA TODAY

Zach LaVine offers words of encouragement for Caris LeVert

Zach LaVine knows a thing or two about comeback campaigns. And that is why it is so encouraging to see him offer kind words to Brooklyn Nets wing Caris LeVert.

LaVine tore his ACL in February of 2017 and aggressively worked to get back into playing shape amid his trade to the Chicago Bulls. He put up 16 points per game in an incredibly inefficient season but has bounced back in a serious way in 2018-19, playing like one of the best 2-guards in the league. LeVert was on a similar path.

Caris LeVert had multiple seasons cut short due to injury at the University of Michigan and only played in 57 games his rookie year. He started to build considerable momentum last season, averaging 12 points and 26 minutes per game. This year LeVert was in full breakout mode, scoring 18 points per game on a career-high 47 percent from the field. 

LeVert will make it back from this injury, and his herky-jerky play style makes it all the more likely that he can get back to the high level he was playing at in 2018. He has encouragement coming from all corners of the basketball world, but the best thing is that LeVert himself seems to be in good spirits. 

REPORT: Bulls players contacted the NBPA due to 'extreme tactics' from Jim Boylen

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USA TODAY

REPORT: Bulls players contacted the NBPA due to 'extreme tactics' from Jim Boylen

In a story published by Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports, it was stated that Bulls players reached out to the National Basketball Players Association on Sunday to protest what they felt were “extreme tactics” from new head coach Jim Boylen.

Boylen has made headlines from the start of his tenure as head coach, solidifying his stature as the former “bad cop” to Fred Hoiberg’s “good cop” through lengthy practices and questioning the team’s toughness and intensity.

Boylen has made his coaching style widely-known and shows no plans to change his hard-nosed ways, though Goodwill’s story says that sources told Yahoo Sports that Boylen felt that substituting out all five players at once was extreme in the moment. He initially pulled out all five players after going down 17-0 against the Celtics, and did it again after a 5-3 run by Boston in the second half that definitely seemed like an odd time to pull all five starters.

A telling excerpt from Goodwill’s piece was:

Players felt like they were being treated like high school athletes and those feelings of disrespect escalated when Boylen told the media the players needed to get in better shape, sources said.

Some of the disconnect seems to be stemming from what is being set forth as reasonable expectations. In Goodwill's piece it is stated that Boylen referenced his tenure with the San Antonio Spurs when speaking to the team, and it seems that some of the players are tired of hearing about his connections to the storied franchise:

A player responded, sources said, telling Boylen in essence that they aren’t the Spurs and, more importantly, he isn’t Popovich.

This year is about the development of the Bulls young talent as they likely prepare for another lottery pick. And now any meaningful development is in jeopardy, with so much drama now surrounding the team.

The main issue with firing Fred Hoiberg was always the awkward timing, and things appear to be getting much worse as it is clear there is some disconnect between Boylen and this roster.

A point that Boylen has tried to emphasize multiple times is that the players need to trust him. But with a reported (and unorthodox) directly-after-the-game film session, multiple 2+ hour practices and the aforementioned 5-man substitution in the blowout loss to Boston, it is clear that it will be hard for the players to fully trust him until they are on the same page as far as what both sides—Boylen and the players—expect from each other. 

 

Everyone says the right thing following Sunday's fiasco, but Jim Boylen not backing down on tough-love stance for Bulls

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USA TODAY

Everyone says the right thing following Sunday's fiasco, but Jim Boylen not backing down on tough-love stance for Bulls

It’s not perfect inside the Advocate Center, but one day later it appears as though Jim Boylen and his Bulls are at the very least getting closer to being on the same page.

The Bulls participated in a – wait for it – lengthy shootaround Monday afternoon in the wake of Sunday’s mini revolt when the players called for a meeting instead of practicing. The players met together and later the coaching staff and members of the front office, voicing their opinions in an attempt to be direct and get on the same page.

The results of those meetings won’t be known until the Bulls take the floor, but the opinions from the players who spoke at shootaround were that the talks were positive, with veteran Robin Lopez going as far to say “we came out the better for it.”

Head coach Jim Boylen also agreed with players, noting that after a turbulent first week that saw Fred Hoiberg fired on Tuesday and the Bulls suffer a franchise-worst 56-point loss to the Celtics on Saturday, that something of a coming together needed to happen at some point.

“I think it was a thing that had to happen with the change,” Boylen said. “I think it’s a blessing for where we want to go and nothing grows without some sun, some shade, some rain and I’m encouraged, they’re encouraged.”

But Boylen also pushed back at the notion that the decision for the Bulls not to practice – and reportedly deciding on whether or not to even show up at all – was not a group decision, but instead a minority whose voices were heard most loudly.

“The truth is we had a couple guys who thought a Sunday practice was excessive after the week we had. And they have to trust me if I bring them in here to practice, I’m going to manage their legs and manage what we’re going to do,” Boylen said. “They didn’t understand that. So I explained to them you have to trust that I’m going to do what’s best for this team. What was best for this team was coming in, being together and growing. Some guys felt that was excessive. We cleared that up, and we’re moving on.”

Boylen’s first week as head coach of the Bulls has at times felt excessive. The Bulls practiced for more than 2 hours on Monday and again on Wednesday, complete with conditioning drills that Boylen said would help the Bulls get back to the basics. A road loss to the Pacers was sandwiched in between those practices. The Bulls earned their first win of the year against a winning team – and Boylen’ first as head coach – on Friday against the Thunder before suffering the embarrassing loss to the Celtics.

After that game Boylen questioned the toughness of his team, calling their play “embarrassing” which ultimately led to the backlash that occurred Sunday afternoon when the head coach called for a rare practice following a back-to-back set.

Though Boylen’s been around for three-plus seasons as an assistant coach, the tough love as head coach has been a stark difference from what the team experienced under Fred Hoiberg. But Boylen believes his job is to get the most out of a young group that, despite low expectations, is still failing to meet them on a nightly basis. And though he did give in Sunday to a team that pushed back on his methods, he said Monday that “this is not a negotiation.”

“My job…is to try to push our guys to a place they can’t take themselves,” he said. “That’s pushing them outside their comfort zone. That’s what my job is. That’s what the Reinsdorfs are paying me for.

“I explained that to them – ‘Hey guys, everybody wants it comfortable, everybody wants it safe. Well, I don’t think you become great in that.’ So it’s going to be a little raw for a while, it’s going to be a little rough for a while. And maybe there’s a point where it gets not as rough but all of a sudden it’s got to be rough again.”

Bulls players are attempting to find that balance of a coach that seems hell bent on getting the most out of his guys through old-school tactics. That’s why Sunday’s meeting was called, and while everyone spoke glowingly about what happened, the reality is the proof will be seen over the coming days, weeks and months, beginning with Monday’s game against the Kings.

Just another day at the corner of Madison and Wood.