Chicago Bulls turn to an old trick from a past rebuild
The big announcement at Chicago Bulls media day was coach Jim Boylen and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson tepidly stating a goal of making the playoffs. This season, to be clear.
"Our goals for the season are to make the playoffs," Boylen said Monday at the Advocate Center. "And every day to prepare like we're a playoff team. Every day to work like we're a playoff-bound team. I'm excited for that. I think that's the only way to do it."
For the old-timers on the beat, it was reminiscent of one of the more comical moments from a past rebuild.
During Paxson's first training camp after replacing Jerry Krause as general manager, he passed out T-shirts stating the goal of making the playoffs. The players wore them around the Berto Center during the first week of practice.
Whether or not that 2003 goal was genuine is open to discussion. It put pressure on head coach Bill Cartwright, and two months later he was replaced by Scott Skiles. That 2003-04 team finished 23-59, but Skiles did lead the Bulls to the playoffs a year later.
Boylen passed out team T-shirts last month, but they didn't say anything about making the playoffs.
"There's no way that we were going to stand up here and say, 'Hey, I hope we can win 10 more games or we hope we can be better,' " Boylen said. "We want to get to the mountain top."
Well, getting better would be a legitimate goal, especially after the Bulls slid from 27 to 22 wins last season. Maybe focusing on the playoffs is the wrong idea for a team that sorely needs to focus on conquering the NBA basics.
Either way, it's all just noise. Setting a playoff goal isn't going to ensure that it happens. Boylen, Paxson and the Bulls are just as eager to see progress this season as the fans.
"We have some guys who are at a time in their careers where they have to step up," Paxson said. "That's Zach (LaVine), that's Lauri (Markkanen), that's Otto (Porter). We have young guys that know it's their time to step up. Wendell (Carter) can be thrown in that mix too. He's a very mature 20-year-old young man."
Boylen talked with enthusiasm about how everyone on the roster -- minus Tomas Satoransky and Cristiano Felicio, who were in China playing in the FIBA World Cup -- worked out at the Advocate Center during September.
Boylen tried to promote competition by holding a weekly one-on-one tournament. He made a championship belt to be held by the winner.
LaVine was the overall champ with the most victories, but there were four different winners of the tournaments and one epic title game between LaVine and Ryan Arcidiacono.
September workouts aren't unusual. NBA teams typically get together after Labor Day to prepare for camp. So Boylen was asked what made the Bulls' early autumn so special.
"We had full attendance, I think that's number one," he said. "I think the energy that they brought and the dedication to being here is a statement. It's a statement that they want to be here and they want to win.
"They made the commitment to come in and work and care. We don't have to spend time in camp getting us in great shape. We can work from day one at the level that we need to get better. Those are the kinds of things that make us excited."
As mentioned here before, the Bulls did a nice job in free agency, adding a starter on a playoff team in forward Thaddeus Young and an experienced guard in Satoransky, who also is the right age (27) to be a long-term piece.
The Bulls should be better. But their chances for meaningful success depend mostly on whether LaVine and Markkanen can develop into all-star caliber players.
"It's not a lot of pressure, because we expect ourselves to go to that level," LaVine said. "We work extremely hard."
No argument there. But the proof needs to show up in the win column.
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