The Athletic editor Jon Greenberg sent a “this should make you mad” message to me directly with a link to Darnell Mayberry’s piece there on Jim Boylen.
And Jon was right...this is deeply troubling stuff.
It starts with playing into the mythology of Jim Boylen the hard-pail lunch-hat guy, who turned down a ‘luxury sedan’ from the owner’s son to instead get the more blue-collar Cadillac Escalade (huh?).
Which directly leads into this goofiness:
And three days before the start of this year’s training camp, Boylen brought in another memory of his factory days. He ordered a time clock...To the right, resting in two small adjacent grey placeholders, are the players’ time cards.
“So when guys come through the doors they punch in now,” Boylen said. “Punching in to work.”
There’s other motivational ‘quirks’ like t-shirts, slogans (“filling buckets”, likely among them), and film clips. He must’ve gotten that last one from Fred Hoiberg, Boylen always said he learns from the greats he’s worked under...
There’s also a focus on punctuality:
He’s mandated players be in the building 45 minutes early. No more strolling in 10 minutes before practice begins. The cafeteria closes a half-hour before practice. Players are now waiting for Boylen in the film room as opposed to the other way around.
This isn’t altogether that offensive if it’s just profiling the work Boylen is doing. And there’s also important information relayed in how the players are responding to this. Sure, we get the repetition of the awful ‘Zach LaVine offering to pay Boylen’s fine’ story (heard so often it deserves an acronym), but there are new bits about LaVine talking with Boylen over the summer, the veteran presence of Thaddeus Young, maturity of Wendell Carter Jr., and the front office providing a more coach-proof roster that is worthy of excitement. It’s also commendable if Boylen was indeed successfully recruiting players, as he and the team have had a perception problem.
But I do have more of a problem with this piece (and a similar one by KC Johnson yesterday, which I am trying to ignore if Johnson is just gonna fully lean into being the new Sam Smith) when it comes to these points made in there:
1) ‘mission accomplished’ verbiage, before the Bulls have even started the season. It was a good preseason, but those are fake games. The greatest February of all time ever was only slightly more legitimate than fake too.
Even Mayberry himself says “Boylen remains the Bulls’ biggest unknown. He could be the best thing Chicago never knew it needed or the team’s weakest link. No one really knows.” but the headline boasts achievement and later states “the turnaround has been as surprising as it’s been swift, with no one suspecting Chicago would have come this far in such short order.” Come this far to where, exactly?
2) John Paxson being a quoted arbiter, especially with ‘the culture’. John Paxson has boasted about the culture-setting and a general belief in his head coaches for...every one of his head coaches. He was fully behind Fred Hoiberg’s culture too, and now we hear guys were loitering in the cafeteria!
John Paxson has no credibility on this so it’s best not to hear from him.
3) A re-writing of history when it comes to Boylen’s midseason ascension to the lead chair. It was an unmitigated disaster. That means no mitigating! And there’s a ton of mitigating here on it all being ‘actually good’.
There is no denying that Boylen was terrible when he took over. His team not only went in the toilet, but them and he became a laughing stock. He was mocked not because people are mean, but because it was easy and deserved. I get why Boylen and his praised bosses want to try and re-frame this, but the media doesn’t have to participate.
Now, It’s reasonable to predict this year will be different. Boylen has looked to have wildly changed his stated philosophies of team offense and load management. And, likely most importantly, the players look to be better and less turd-like.
But there is still a lot to prove. There is still literally anything to prove, as so far all evidence is that Boylen is a terrible coach. That can change starting tonight, but it hasn’t changed already.
Mayberry’s piece ends with this elongated Boylenism:
“I like the spirit and the soul of our team and the coachability of our team. I think we’re becoming a player-coached team. How are we going to react when adversity hits? How are we going to react when the pressure hits us? That’s going to be where we have to grow. We’ll have some good moments and hopefully some real good moments.”
He’s right, and it’s a genuine concern of mine as well. We don’t know much about Boylen based off of preseason and general feel-goodery surrounding the start of the year. We’ll see what happens when they lose, especially if it’s embarrassing fashion.
Again, with a better and maybe more coachable group of contributors Boylen will change further. Because last year, Boylen’s go-to after such events (which happened a lot, even there is now a push to wave that away) was to blame the players and declare them not ‘tough’. If he sticks with that, the all-out extra of Boylen will possibly backfire just as extra.