Paxson has plenty of praise for Boylen in season-ending address
As another disappointing Bulls season ended, there wasn't much John Paxson could say about the future of the roster.
Four starters are relatively set in stone for next season -- Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. The Bulls executive vice president for basketball operations admitted the need for better point guard play, but suggested the team hasn't given up on Kris Dunn.
A couple of recent draft picks, Denzel Valentine and Chandler Hutchison, should be back and the search for veteran free agents to help off the bench will likely depend on how the draft lottery turns out.
But Paxson had plenty to say about head coach Jim Boylen, who replaced Fred Hoiberg on Dec. 3.
"Jim Boylen in our estimation has done terrific things as far as establishing what we want in this building and with this organization, especially on the practice floor, how to carry yourself and how to work," Paxson said Thursday at the Advocate Center.
Paxson said he's had talks about a longer-term extension for Boylen, so expect that to be in place when next season begins. Boylen may end up being a transitional coach during the rebuilding growing pains, but Paxson thinks it's important to show a commitment to the first-time NBA head coach.
"I've spoken to both Jerry and Michael (Reinsdorf) about addressing that and I don't know what the timing will be, but I envision Jim being our coach here and us committing to him, yes," Paxson said.
During his roughly 30-minute meeting with reporters, Paxson did give some specific examples of why he feels good about Boylen. The former lead assistant got off to a rough start as head coach, setting a franchise record for worst loss in his third game, then having some players balk at a scheduled practice the next day.
But as time went on, it seemed like the players got to know Boylen and began to appreciate his passion. LaVine, for one, sounded frustrated at midseason and very optimistic by the end.
"What I've seen is his ability to show these guys he genuinely cares about them," Paxson said. "His goal is to get them better as individuals. I'm the first to admit that first week was like dynamite blowing up. It was a rocky week. What I've seen since then is a guy who embraces this challenge. He embraces the individuals he's coaching.
"He really does view himself as a teacher, a guy who wants to connect with the players. Sometimes, you have to be demanding and hard. I still believe that you can demand as a head coach as long as you show these guys that you're doing it because you care about them and you want them to succeed."
Paxson also gushed about having a smooth relationship with Boylen, which might illustrate that Boylen is open to outside ideas or maybe that he knows how to please the boss.
"In the four-and-a-half months Jim has been the head coach, he and I have had more dialogue together about everything than I had with any of the other guys probably combined," Paxson said. "There's been a rhythm to it. He's receptive to a lot we talk about. Doug Collins has been terrific for him. They communicate all the time.
"Jim is going to rub players the wrong way sometimes. Phil Jackson rubbed players the wrong way. The great ones do. We're going to try to build something here with him as our coach and I'm confident in that right now."
The Bulls dropped from 27 to 22 wins in Year 2 of the rebuild. Rather than admit a lack of progress, Paxson pointed to the injuries and suggested they could be a blessing in disguise if the Bulls to well in the May 14 draft lottery. Among the Bulls' projected starters, LaVine played in 63 games this season, Markkanen 52, Dunn 46, Carter 44 and Porter 15.
The Bulls also announced Thursday that Markkanen has been cleared to resume full basketball activities after taking the end of the season off due to concerns about excessive fatigue and rapid heart rate during a game in Toronto on Mar. 26.
Maybe the highlight of Paxson's talk was when he was asked if the key to getting better is landing one of the top two picks in the draft, which would allow them to add Zion Williamson or Ja Morant.
"Honestly I don't think that way. You can't," he said. "Well find out May 14th. Luck and hope are not a strategy or a plan."