Bulls

Kay Felder shines at NBA Combine, proving height not an issue

Kay Felder shines at NBA Combine, proving height not an issue

There has to be a shortest player in the NBA Draft each year.

There also has to be a player who records the highest maximum vertical leap.

Most years those aren’t the same player. Kay Felder is not most players.

The Oakland point guard measured in at 5-foot-8 and a quarter on Wednesday, half-an-inch shorter than Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis. A day later he measured 44 inches on his maximum vertical leap, the second-highest mark in NBA Combine history; he also finished second in the three-quarters court sprint.

Felder’s height may be concerning to prospective general managers when the NBA Draft rolls around in late June. But where Felder lacks in height – and makes up for in athleticism – he’s entering the draft as one of the country’s most effective point guards.

All Felder did during his junior season with the Golden Grizzlies was average 24.4 points and 9.3 assists in nearly 37 minutes. That third team All-American campaign was highlighted by a 37-point, nine-assist performance in an overtime loss to top-ranked Michigan State at The Palace of Auburn Hills in December.

That game put Felder on the national scene, and it included a call from Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, the shortest player in the NBA. Thomas was in the midst of his first All-Star campaign, and has been the driving force behind bucking the trend that shorter point guards can’t make it in the NBA.

Felder, a score-first point guard, says he models his game as a mix between Thomas and Hornets point guard Kemba Walker, who stands 6-foot-1. Because of those players, Felder said, he’s heard less about his height and more about his positive attributes.

“I used to hear about the height thing all the time,” he said. “Now I rarely hear about it. It’s still in the back of their minds but I barely hear about it. I hear about comparisons to guys that are smaller and having success.”

The state of the NBA has also given him a positive outlook on his draft stock, which still falls somewhere in the second round for now. Felder described watching the Warriors’ “death lineup,” where all five players are 6-foot-8 or shorter, in this year’s playoffs. And because of that, he believes now is the perfect time to make the jump to the NBA.

“The game is definitely getting smaller,” he said.

Where Felder, a junior, has proven himself to be a capable playmaker and distributor, he showed off his defensive ability in Thursday’s scrimmage at Quest Multisport. Paired up against 6-foot-2 Cat Barber most of the game, Felder held his own while adding 11 points and four assists. It’s an area he still needs to improve after three seasons at Oakland where he defended off the ball to avoid foul trouble. He admitted he was allowed to “slide on defense” under Greg Kampe.

“I just have to be aggressive on defense and show I can play defense,” he said, “because that’s going to get me to the next level.”

The numbers are there; no other player in college basketball reached his point and assist thresholds. His testing Thursday in Chicago was as good as any other guard in the class. It’s why he’s not concerned with being the smallest player in the draft. Shortly after his performance against the Spartans, Thomas instilled words of wisdom on Felder that he’s still using today.

“He said, being small you have to be special,” Felder recalled.

The shortest player in the draft is out to prove that’s exactly what he is.

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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