- In the wake of Monday’s report that Bulls players contacted the National Basketball Players Association of Jim Boylen‘s coaching tactics, a front office sources stressed to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times that the team’s new head coach is “safe.” That source also had no complaints about what happened over the weekend: “Jim handled [Sunday] really well. It was a teachable moment for our young guys.”
The Bulls discussed forming a leadership committee after this weekend’s incidents involving new coach Jim Boylen, according to Malika Andrews and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. If it happens, committee members will help to foster communication and mitigate disputes that arise between players and coaches.
Bulls players reacted angrily after Boylen, who took over for Fred Hoiberg last week, scheduled a Sunday practice in the midst of a three-game stretch in four nights. Boylen has been holding strenuous practice sessions since becoming head coach, and players objected to the additional wear and tear in the midst of a difficult part of the schedule.
Some players discussed boycotting Sunday’s session, but Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez helped to quell that rebellion. All the players showed up, but there was no practice, just two meetings — one involving just players and another between players and coaches with team president John Paxson and GM Gar Forman present.
Boylen reportedly has the full support of management in his get-tough approach with the team. However, he explained in the second meeting that he wasn’t intending to hold a hard practice on Sunday and stressed to players that they need to learn to trust him.
Zach LaVine told the ESPN writers he met one-on-one with Boylen and tried to explain his perspective.
“You just want to be real with people,” LaVine said. “There shouldn’t be any clouds. I think of myself as one of the leaders on the team. I just wanted to voice my opinion to them. This is a business, this isn’t a dictatorship. We are all grown men, so everybody has a voice.”
Here are Monday’s assignments and recalls from around the NBA:
- In what might be the most significant G League assignment of the season, the Warriors sent All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to their affiliate in Santa Cruz, the team announced. Cousins is rehabbing from a torn Achilles and is hopeful to return within three-to-four weeks. We relayed Cousins’ assignment and his comments after Monday’s practice.
- The Rockets recalled Isaiah Hartenstein from their G League affiliate in Rio Grande, per Mark Berman of FOX 26. Hartenstein (Twitter link). The 20-year-old center has appeared in 21 games this season, averaging 2.1 PPG and 1.6 RPG.
- The Bulls assigned Antonio Blakeney to their G League affiliate Windy City Bulls, the team announced (Twitter link). Blakeney has appeared in 24 games with Chicago this season but only played four of their past seven.
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.”
As we relayed on Sunday, the Bulls held a pair of meetings on Sunday following the worst loss in franchise history on Saturday, with the players participating in the first meeting before being joined by the coaches for the second one. K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune and Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic have since provided more details on what happened on Sunday, reporting that those meetings were a compromise of sorts.
As Johnson and Mayberry explain, new head coach Jim Boylen pulled his starters early on Saturday in a “premeditated” move, vowing to put the team through another grueling practice on Sunday. Having played back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday, Bulls players pushed back against the idea of another intense practice on Sunday, using a team-wide group text to discuss the possibility of boycotting that practice, or showing up at the team facility together and then walking out.
However, Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez expressed concern about the “unprofessionalism” of a potential boycott, sources tell Mayberry. Veteran Bulls were also concerned about the impact that a major act of rebellion could have on the club’s younger, less established players, Mayberry adds. Ultimately, the players decided to show up and voice their concerns with Boylen and his staff, which led to the compromise — the practice didn’t happen, but the two meetings did.
Boylen’s initially-stated desire to push the Bulls hard again on Sunday after back-to-back games reflects the approach he has taken since replacing Fred Hoiberg as the team’s head coach a week ago. As Mayberry details, Boylen has been putting the Bulls through long, rigorous practices since taking over last Monday.
Last Tuesday, for instance, according to Mayberry, the team’s shootaround in Indianapolis exceeded 90 minutes. After the Bulls lost to the Pacers that night, Boylen immediately made players watch clips of their turnovers and poor defensive rebounding, then emerged from the locker room to tell reporters that his players needed to improve their conditioning and toughness.
“We needed to get a lot of stuff off our chest and be transparent,” Zach LaVine said on Sunday, according to Johnson. “I don’t think the players’ toughness should ever be questioned. I think that’s on us. I think that is a little bit of what we discussed in our meeting.”
For his part, Boylen has shown no regrets about the tactics he has taken, and believes they’re sending the right message to his players.
“They’re learning how I operate,” Boylen said, per Mayberry. “They’re learning what I value. And if I think a group out there isn’t doing what they need to be doing as a collective unit, I’m going to sub. Maybe I’ll sub three. Maybe I’ll sub five. What they have to understand is there are obligations and options. And we’re cleaning up what goes on. You’re obligated to do the things I ask them to do. And they’re obligated to play the right way. And when they’re not, my job is to try to fix that.”
When they announced last week that he would replace Hoiberg, the Bulls didn’t give Boylen the interim tag, suggesting they expect him to finish out the season and perhaps even remain in the head coaching role in 2019/20 and beyond. Despite a rocky start, there’s no indication the franchise won’t stick to that plan, so it’s in the Bulls’ best interests to make sure that the players and their coach are on the same page. After Sunday’s meetings, both sides seemed a little more comfortable, at least for now.
“Nobody is going to make more mistakes than I do,” Boylen said, per Johnson. “I have a lot of responsibility and make a lot of decisions. I’m not going to get them all right. But this is not a hobby for me. We’re going to keep working and grinding and communicating and hugging and crying and laughing and moving forward.”
The Bulls held a players-only meeting on Sunday, just one day removed from a 133-77 blowout loss to the Celtics at home, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The coaching staff eventually joined the players to discuss the team’s status, with the meeting reportedly being led by Zach LaVine and Justin Holiday.
Bulls coach Jim Boylen refuted claims that players called for the meeting, despite multiple players conveying otherwise, Andrews reported in a separate tweet. The mixed messages come just one week after Boylen was promoted to head coach.
Boylen is respected across the league and is known as a longtime assistant who’s spent time on several NBA teams, including seasons under Gregg Popovich on the Spurs from 2013-15. He’s pushed his players to tough standards during long practices and expects the very best out of each of them.
“We’ve had some running . . . some running,” Zach LaVine said Friday, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s OK. [Boylen] wants to make his mark. You have to understand that. I think things will slow up as the season goes on.”
In some ways, Boylen’s approach resembles the hard-nosed, competitive nature that former Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had. It can rub some players the wrong way, but it can also lead to success with the right pieces in place.
“Because I’m direct and honest, and they’re going to know exactly where they stand in every moment, every day,” Boylen said, according to Cowley. “The great guys I worked for, that’s what they do, and that’s what I want to do. These guys know that. They know how I operate, and I’ve operated that way since I’ve been here. Direct and honest. Nobody likes to be told the truth when it’s not good for them, but at the end of the day, they know deep down inside that it’s what they needed to hear.”
Boylen’s decision to pull his starting five less than three minutes into the second half on Saturday raised some eyebrows, but he ultimately felt the team wasn’t giving an acceptable effort.
“I think your play is embarrassing,” Boylen said after the game, according to Andrews. “… I worked for [Spurs head coach] Gregg Popovich. He subbed five guys a ton of times. Nobody says a word to him about it. He felt that was best for the team. I felt that was best for the team where we were at. I wanted to give the other guys a chance to see if they could right the ship a little bit. If I don’t like the five guys out there, if I don’t like the combination, I’m going to look at a new combination. Take them all out, let them sit there and think about it.”
The Bulls have played without Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis, both of whom are nursing injuries, but Boylen expects the team to work together and give a better effort going forward. Sunday’s extensive meeting allowed those on both sides to state their grievances and clear the air.
“I thought it was very productive,” center Wendell Carter Jr. said, as relayed by Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. “The big, main topic for that whole meeting was being truthfully honest and direct. I feel like everybody was very direct with one another, very honest. Everybody told each other how we really, really feel about what happened last night, how we feel about each other in terms of the team, how we feel about everybody as a whole.”
Chicago has games against the Kings, Magic and Spurs scheduled for the upcoming week. The Bulls hold a 6-21 record (second-worst in the league) through the season’s first 27 games.
New Bulls coach Jim Boylen is trying to rebuild the struggling team on the fly, explaining his thoughts this past week on where the club stands. Boylen was promoted to head coach two weeks ago when the team suddenly fired Fred Hoiberg.
“My focus is that we’re not where we need to be to compete, and so obviously we want to win but I want us to be at a level where we get the full force of what we do,” Boylen said, according to Mark Strotman of NBC Sports. “I don’t think our conditioning allows us to do that.
“We’re on the first floor, We’re on ‘A.’ I’d like us to get to ‘D’ and ‘E.’ Maybe in two weeks we’ll see. We can’t get to ‘D’ and ‘E’ if we’re not in shape.”
These comments from Boylen came before his team lost 133-77 against the Celtics on Saturday, giving Boston its largest margin of victory in franchise history. Boylen ripped his team’s effort after the game, clearly trying to motivate his young squad and change their mindsets. The team held a lengthy meeting on Sunday to discuss their play.
Boylen, a veteran assistant with several NBA teams, has the opportunity to prove to management that he deserves to coach past this season. The Bulls are currently 6-21 and have lost eight of their last 10 games.
Here are some other notes from the Central Division:
- Pistons guard Ish Smith is said to be drawing interest on the trade market, according to Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press. Smith is expected to miss roughly three to six weeks with a right adductor muscle tear. Before getting injured, Smith was averaging 9.2 points and three assists per contest.
- Steve Aschburner of NBA.com stresses the importance of retaining Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton in free agency for the Bucks, with both talents playing key roles on the team around Giannis Antetokounmpo this season. “It is our mission statement,” Bucks GM Jon Horst said, explaining the importance of building around Antetokounmpo. “What Giannis means to our team, our franchise, our city, our state kind of goes beyond words. We have to make the most of the opportunity to find and build things that fit with him.” Milwaukee is 16-8 on the season and holds the No. 2 spot out East, sporting an impressive 12-3 record at home.
- The Pacers have found strength in numbers this season, using a collective approach to overcome the loss of All-Star Victor Oladipo, writes Mark Montieth of NBA.com. Oladipo has missed the team’s last 10 games to injury, but the Pacers are 6-4 this season without him. Last season, Indiana held a 0-7 record in games Oladipo missed.
New Bulls coach Jim Boylen didn’t hold back his criticism after Saturday’s 56-point loss to the Celtics, the worst defeat in franchise history, relays Malika Andrews of ESPN.
“I think your play is embarrassing,” said Boylen, who pulled his five starters for the night three minutes into the third quarter. “… I worked for [Spurs head coach] Gregg Popovich. He subbed five guys a ton of times. Nobody says a word to him about it. He felt that was best for the team. I felt that was best for the team where we were at. I wanted to give the other guys a chance to see if they could right the ship a little bit. If I don’t like the five guys out there, if I don’t like the combination, I’m going to look at a new combination. Take them all out, let them sit there and think about it.”
There was plenty to think about, and none of it was good. Chicago fell behind 17-0 and went more than six minutes of the first quarter without scoring. The deficit was 32 points when Boylen decided to pull Ryan Arcidiacono, Zach LaVine, Justin Holiday, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter, who combined for 27 points on the night, the lowest total for a Bulls starting lineup in 11 years. Fans booed loudly throughout the game as the team fell to 6-21.
“We don’t have that internal toughness yet to play at this level consistently,” Boylen said afterward.
There’s more this morning from Chicago:
- Bulls management claims that former coach Fred Hoiberg was dismissed because he lost his influence with his players, but the real reason was a deteriorating relationship with GM Gar Forman, according to Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Bobby Portis was the latest player to come to Hoiberg’s defense Saturday. “He’s a players’ coach, lets guys go out there and do what they do, get better,” Portis said. “Me, personally, he helped me develop my game a lot, so I credit a lot of things toward him. To say that he lost the respect of the locker room, I don’t think that’s a good way to put it.’’
- Portis and Kris Dunn are both close to returning from knee injuries, although neither played Saturday. Dunn’s return will mark a critical time in his career, as he becomes eligible for a rookie contract extension at the end of the season, Cowley notes in a separate story. Dunn has been effective since coming to Chicago last year, but it’s not clear if the front office is fully invested in him as the point guard of the future. Cowley states that the team had a private workout with Trae Young before the draft and considered taking Collin Sexton with the seventh pick before opting for Carter.
- Arcidiacono’s high-energy game has made him an effective fill-in during Dunn’s absence, writes Sam Smith of NBA.com.
On Thursday afternoon, Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic reported that both Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis were on the verge of returning to the Bulls lineup soon and that head coach Jim Boylen intimated the team was contemplating playing the pair as early as last night’s win over the Thunder.
Of course, last night came and went with neither Dunn nor Portis taking the floor, and per Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, neither player is a sure bet to play against the Celtics tonight either.
“They had a good day and that’s about all I’ve got,” Boylen said yesterday in regard to tonight’s game. “We have to wait until they respond (Saturday) morning. They have their check-in and we go from there. (But) they got through (Friday) and did well.”
Last we heard about two weeks ago, both Dunn and Portis were able to work out for the first time, which was the most either had done since being injured, but neither player was ready for any type of contact, per former coach Fred Hoiberg.
Dunn, 24, sprained his right MCL against the Mavericks in the third game of the season (his first) on October 22 and has not played since. Meanwhile, Portis, 23, suffered the same injury two nights later. Likewise, he has been out of the lineup since the injury.
Per Boylen, both Portis and Dunn will have their minutes restricted whenever they return.
- Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic takes an interesting, detailed look at how Jim Boylen has dove head-first into his new job as the Bulls‘ head coach this week, meeting individually with all his players after taking the reins from Fred Hoiberg.