It was an odd weekend for the Bulls, who picked up a rare win on Friday, suffered the worst loss in team history on Saturday, then held a pair of meetings on Sunday in lieu of the practice that head coach Jim Boylen had reportedly planned. As we relayed this morning, some Bulls players had originally wanted to skip Sunday’s practice altogether, discussing the idea beforehand in a group chat, but Robin Lopez and Lauri Markkanen were among those who convinced everyone to show up and voice their concerns.
Speaking today to reporters, including K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune (Twitter link), Boylen pushed back on the idea that his team – as a whole – was opposed to practicing on Sunday.
“That is not true that ‘they’ didn’t want to have practice. ‘They’ means everybody. That is not true. I don’t like that narrative,” Boylen said, per Johnson. “The truth is we had a couple guys who thought a Sunday practice was excessive after the week we had. They have to trust me that if I bring them in to practice, I’m going to manage their legs. They didn’t understand that. So I explained to them that you have to trust me that I’m going to do what’s best for this team. What was best was coming in, being together and growing.”
As Johnson explains (via Twitter), it’s not as if Boylen’s tactics are at odds with what Bulls ownership and management wants from him — while his coaching style definitely reflects his personality, Boylen also has an organizational mandate to push his players hard, says Johnson. The head coach said as much on Monday, as Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times relays.
“My job, I tell them this and you guys have heard me say this, is to try and push our guys to a place they can’t take themselves,” Boylen 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 take that very seriously, so I explained that to them.”
As Boylen doubles down on his hard-nosed approach to the head coaching job, Vincent Goodwill and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports report that Bulls players contacted the National Basketball Players Association on Sunday about Boylen’s tactics. Having already gone through three two-and-a-half hour practices since Boylen took over last Monday, the players reached out to the union when it appeared that another grueling practice was on tap for Sunday following a back-to-back set.
Haynes and Goodwill passed along several more fascinating tidbits on the situation in Chicago. We’ll round up a number of the highlights here:
- Following Saturday’s game, one of the team’s veterans said – in a group text with his teammates – that if anyone showed up to Sunday’s practice, the vet would personally fine them, according to Haynes and Goodwill. Some players agreed, but with Boylen aware of the plan and refusing to relent, the players ultimately decided to show up, even though they had no intention of practicing.
- Lopez, who wasn’t part of the initial group chat, played a major role in getting the players to back down, per Yahoo’s report. The veteran center also said today that the team “came out the better for it” after Sunday’s meetings, but admitted that he wished Fred Hoiberg had been given the chance to coach a fully healthy roster this season, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.com.
- Sources close to Boylen tell Haynes and Goodwill that the coach wasn’t actually planning to conduct a rigorous practice on Sunday. K.C. Johnson previously reported the same thing, writing that Boylen simply planned to have his players watch film and get some shots up. It’s not clear whether or not that’s revisionist history, considering Boylen said on Saturday night that he pulled his players early on Saturday in a “premeditated” move so that they’d be able to practice on Sunday.
- Boylen, who has had “numerous verbal confrontations” with Bulls players since the start of the 2018/19 season, went against the usual postgame protocol by making players watch film immediately after last Tuesday’s loss to Indiana. Sources tell Haynes and Goodwill that Bulls players felt like they were being treated like high school athletes, and felt further disrespected when Boylen told the media later the players had to get in better shape.
- When the Bulls told Boylen on Sunday that they weren’t practicing, Zach LaVine and Justin Holiday were the “most vocal,” sources tell Haynes and Goodwill. Sensing “turmoil” in Chicago, some teams have begun looking into Holiday’s availability, though it’s not yet clear if the Bulls will engage in trade talks, according to Haynes and Goodwill. Previous reports have suggested Holiday, who is on an expiring contract, should be available.
- Defending his decision to sub out all five starters at once during Saturday’s game, Boylen cited Gregg Popovich and the Spurs when speaking with his team on Sunday. According to Haynes and Goodwill, one player responded by telling Boylen, in essence, that the Bulls “aren’t the Spurs and, more importantly, he isn’t Popovich.”