New coach Jim Boylen is pushing the Bulls, but they are shoving back
It’s been apparent over the past two weeks that Jim Boylen wants to make a lasting impression in his first opportunity as a full-time NBA head coach. Generally, assistant coaches who get named the head coach in midseason do.
Who knows if Boylen will get a head coaching job if his time with the Chicago Bulls doesn’t work out, so he wants to whip this downtrodden organization into shape Sergeant Carter of “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” style, using his discipline and structure to change the culture of a team filled with young, talented players with no idea how to win.
So the moment he took over for the fired Fred Hoiberg, Boylen said the team he inherited was out of shape. He ramped up practices, changed habits and openly criticized his players in the media.
It seemed to work initially, with the Bulls losing by 6 at Indiana on Dec. 4, then beating the Oklahoma City Thunder at home three nights later. So there was anticipation for the next game — against the Celtics.
There was no reason to believe Boylen wouldn’t have his guys ready to play against one of the Eastern Conference’s elite teams, especially coming off such an impressive win.
Then a week ago Saturday happened.
The Celtics jumped out to a 13-0 lead and suddenly the Bulls looked like the Blackhawks as Boylen replaced all five starters. The bench played respectably and the team trailed, 35-17, after the opening period. The Celtics extended their lead to 21 by halftime and then 24 to begin the third period before Boylen did it again, replacing all five starters for the rest of the night.
The fourth period was embarrassing for the Bulls, as it turned into essentially a pickup game with the Celtics trying snazzy breakaway dunks and firing away 3-pointers to no resistance. The result was a 133-77 win, the biggest win in Celtics’ history and the biggest loss in Bulls’ history.
Customarily, NBA teams never practice the day after back-to-back games. It allows the players to rest their legs, recover from injuries, take a day off and reset. Boylen wanted to call a practice, which offended his players, who already had become wary of their new, hard-driving coach.
A text thread among the players discussed boycotting the Dec. 9 practice. Instead, through the leadership of veteran Robin Lopez and second-year forward Lauri Markkanen, the players appeared at the practice facility, held a players’ only meeting, and then met with the coaches.
Boylen’s decisions were the main source of their ire. That prompted pointed opinions from former players, who criticized the Bulls for refusing to practice a night after losing by 56 points and being soundly embarrassed in front of their home fans.
The Bulls played better in their next game against Sacramento but were outscored by 30 points in the second half and lost by 19. They were competitive Thursday against the Orlando Magic but lost, 97-91, dropping their record to 6-23.
It’s been a disastrous season in Chicago, but the Bulls were projected by some to have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot. Markkanen missed the first six weeks with an elbow injury and Bobby Portis and Kris Dunn have each missed considerable time.
The team reportedly has now demoted former second overall pick Jabari Parker, signed to help elevate the Bulls into a playoff contender, out of the regular playing rotation. Parker was the team’s second-leading scorer and was signed to a $20 million deal after an injury-prone tenure in Milwaukee.
The Bulls are headed toward another lottery appearance, which is a major disappointment considering the talent on their roster. The jobs of president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman appear safe, although they never really gave Hoiberg a fair opportunity.
If you recall, they signed Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade to join Jimmy Butler and that resulted in getting eliminated by the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs two years ago. Wade was then bought out, Butler traded and Rondo moved on to New Orleans. Hoiberg was expected to lead a young roster with potential standout Zach LaVine recovering from knee surgery.
The Bulls lack established veterans and now have a coach who is trying to relive those “Coach Carter” days by working his youngsters into the ground. There has to be a happy medium. It’s obvious a 6-23 teams needs to work harder and improve habits but two-hour practices after consecutive games isn’t the answer.
This is why the “let’s throw a bunch of talented lottery picks together and let them grow into a winner” method rarely works (just ask Sacramento) because those groups aren’t properly cultivated, and then organizations lose patience.
You can’t blame Boylen entirely because this could be his final shot at an NBA job. That isn’t going to happen this season and even an additional lottery pick in June isn’t going to help all that much for the immediate future. It’s could take years in Chicago.
Commissioner Adam Silver was asked about the Bulls’ situation last week.
“In terms of the Chicago Bulls specifically, I’d say I’m very careful not to get involved in the operation of any particular team,” he said. “I don’t know firsthand about a player who did or didn’t call the Players Association. I mean, I read the story. I don’t know about it. No one called me to complain.
“Players Association hasn’t talked to us. I accept, though, that in a group of young men who are playing, there may be a difference in view occasionally in terms of when players should be practicing and how hard they should be working, but generally those issues are worked out as teams.”
In other words, the league does not want to involve itself unless matters are unmanageable on the team’s end.
“I’ve read some of the comments that have come back from the Bulls management, from their coach, and there seems to be a meeting of the minds,’’ Silver said. “Again, when a new coach comes in midseason, that coach may have a different way of doing things than the prior coach, and I think these great players in the NBA, they’ve had lots of different coaches in their careers, even beginning when they were young players, and there are different styles. I will say there are rules set out in the collective bargaining agreement, in terms of practice time and days off. No one has suggested to me those rules have been violated. Again, I’m so confident that our teams know how to work through these issues and they don’t require the league to step in.”
Fan interaction closely monitored
Many former players were annoyed at the Bulls’ players for complaining about practice because of the revamped schedule that includes more days off. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the changes to the schedule have been a success.
“We think that the changes in the schedule have been very effective, and we’re hearing that directly from our teams and our players,” he said. “Eliminating the four games out of five nights and dramatically reducing the back-to-backs, we think it’s had a direct impact on the quality of play on the floor, and it’s resulted in less resting of players. Again, we think that’s successful.”
Silver then discussed the recent incidents involving Kevin Durant and Patrick Beverley, who were involved and fined for incidents involving yelling expletives at fans.
“It’s not that I haven’t noticed an uptick,’’ Silver said. “We track those things very closely. I will say, though, with the advent of high-quality cameras now carried by everyone in the arena, otherwise known as smart phones, things are picked up that didn’t used to get captured. But I think that’s important, and it gives us an opportunity to, in the case if a patron is out of line, to talk directly to that patron, or in the case of a player doing something that’s inappropriate.
“Again, I think those — one of the things that makes the NBA game so special is how proximate the fans are. What other sport are the fans literally on the playing surface and where a player potentially can tumble into them, and it gives fans an opportunity to tell players exactly what’s on their mind? We have codes of conduct in the arenas. We enforce those. We try to protect our players as best we can. Certainly, if things rise to the level of threats, to the extent we’re able through those platforms to contact people directly who aren’t identifying themselves, we attempt to. And we talk to our players a lot about what’s called social media etiquette.”
And Silver revealed the NBA is closing in on putting a G-League franchise in Mexico City. Mexico has longed for a professional sports franchise and the NBA, being the maverick league under Silver, will explore the country. Remember, Silver signed off on a WNBA team in Las Vegas.
“Our goal is to have a G-League team planting a flag here in Mexico City next season,” Silver said. “I think that’s a bit of a bold proclamation, and it would be our first G-League team now that would no longer be associated directly with an NBA team. We’re up to 28 teams in the NBA.
“We have two more NBA teams [Portland and New Orleans] that don’t have G-League teams. We hope to get that done fairly quickly. So if we were able to put this team here in Mexico City, it would be our 31st team, and I think it would be really exciting, I think, for the market and for us to learn a lot more about operating on a regular basis here.”
MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE
Love trying to help people cope
Kevin Love opened up about his mental health struggles recently at Tufts University and released some interesting nuggets about his journey and what has helped him after a series of anxiety attacks.
Love said he was saddened by the suicide of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who died June 8, during the Cavaliers’ run in the NBA Finals.
“Anthony Bourdain, he was one of my heroes,’’ Love said. “I’ve been working on potentially doing a show that’s a tribute to him,” Love said. “Game 4 of the NBA Finals [his suicide] completely shut me off, not only for that day but for a while. I remember I was cleaning up my home; we had our exit meetings, ready to leave for the offseason. I had all this legal pad and paper, pages of notes, five or six seasons of ‘Parts Unknown.’ Success isn’t immune to depression.
“[Bourdain] was so universally loved and well liked. He had money. He traveled the world. You felt like you traveled the world with him. Beautiful child, girlfriend, TV show that everybody loved, so relatable. I couldn’t get enough of him or his show because he was real.”
Love stressed to the students, many of whom watched live video from college campuses around the country, that mental health issues are not limited to those who are struggling financially or physically. It’s an everyday person’s ailment.
“It doesn’t discriminate,” he said. “It’s a universal thing. It’s not about race, gender or sexual preference, social economic status, demographic, what age you are. This relates and this hits home to everybody.
“Money doesn’t make you unhappy but it isn’t the only currency that truly matters. I would create an emphasis on making more time because you can always make more money. It’s going to fluctuate throughout your life. It’s fast fleeting and you can’t buy any more of it. That’s something I would tell my younger self. I would have changed how I thought about certain things and I would have just enjoyed the moment more.”
After he wrote his revealing piece for Players’ Tribune, detailing his anxiety attacks and opening up about his depression, Love said his reaction from Cavaliers’ teammates was heartening, especially from LeBron James.
“Headed to Denver, busses stopped at the hotel, LeBron pulled me aside when we walked off the bus, shook my hand and basically he told me today you helped a lot of people,” Love said. “Being able to help people has been the best part about it. I found something that’s very meaningful and will be able to work on for the rest of my life.”
The city of Phoenix has to vote on Jan. 23 whether to contribute to upgrades for Talking Stick Resort Arena and the negotiations became serious and more intense when owner Robert Sarver threatened to move the team to Seattle or Las Vegas when the Suns’ lease expires in 2022. Seattle and Las Vegas are both seeking teams, with Las Vegas having the new T-Mobile Arena waiting for an NBA tenant. It’s a difficult time in Arizona for three of the four professional sports who are fighting over stadium upgrades. The Arizona Diamondbacks are looking for a new home in Maricopa County after the 2022 season if they and the city can’t agree on upgrades for Chase Field. The Arizona Coyotes are playing on a year-to-year lease in Glendale and could relocate after this season. Houston and Seattle are potential locations. The Suns were Arizona’s first professional sports team but the team has been mired in a terrible slump for the past several years and it appears to be the wrong time to ask about stadium upgrades. The Suns haven’t reached the playoffs since losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals in 2010. Since then, the Suns have had nine lottery picks, including No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton, and none have reached an All-Star Game. Of those nine lottery picks, just one, Georgios Papagiannis, was traded without ever playing for the Suns . . . The Celtics still have a two-way contract open with the release of Walter Lemon Jr. and one of those candidates for getting a deal, Marcus Georges-Hunt, was waived because of a season-ending knee injury suffered for G-League Maine . . . It seems unlikely Carmelo Anthony will be signed before Jan. 5, when teams are allowed to sign players to 10-day contracts. Anthony has not been waived by the Houston Rockets but has been told to stay away from the team until they can facilitate a deal or make a roster move. It puts Anthony in limbo because his trade value is minimal at this point. The Rockets may try to include him in a deal that could get them the swingman they have coveted but until then, Anthony remains out of the NBA. It would seem feasible for a contender to sign Anthony to a 10-day contract but he likely would seek a contract for the remainder of the season. His suitors could include the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers.