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Bulls players tell Jim Boylen he “isn’t Gregg Popovich”

Apparently only Pop is allowed to be hard on his players.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Boy, that escalated quickly. It was merely a week ago when the Chicago Bulls fired head coach Fred Hoiberg after a 5-19 start to the season and promoted Jim Boylen to head coach. As some might recall, Boylen was an assistant coach for the Spurs for two seasons, including the 2014 championship.

His first order of business was to instill some toughness into a team that fell from 0.500 and a 2017 playoff appearance to just 27-55 last season and appears destined to be one of the three worst teams in the league this season. However, that reportedly did not go over well with his players. According to Yahoo Sports Vincent Goodwill and Chris Hayes, his players have called the NBPA to report what they feel are “extreme” tactics being used by Boylen.

Those tactics include:

  • Practicing the day after a back-to-back (which apparently is unadvised by the NBA)
  • Three two-and-a-half hour practices in one week
  • Extra wind sprints and military-style push-ups
  • A five-man substitution early in a game to send a message

That call for the Sunday practice was apparently the last straw for the players after a culture-shock of a first week under Boylen.

Late Saturday evening one of the team’s veterans, sources said, initiated a group text relaying that if any player showed up to the facility on Sunday prepared to practice, he would fine them personally, and the players agreed.

A player contacted Boylen to alert him of the team’s decision, but the coach refused to relent, sources said.

That’s when the players compromised among themselves, agreeing to show up but with no intention of practicing, sources said. Robin Lopez was the leader of getting the players to back down, sources said, although he wasn’t in the initial group text.

Of course, a lot of this may sound like no big deal to Spurs fans. That would be because Boylen — and he’s told his players this — is trying to instill the Spurs culture he learned under Gregg Popovich into the Bulls, but his players apparently want no part of it.

When Boylen arrived Sunday, the players stood and told Boylen they weren’t practicing, sources said, with the sides meeting to express their issues. Zach LaVine and Justin Holiday were the most vocal, sources said.

Boylen repeatedly referenced his days on the San Antonio Spurs staff and instances in which coach Gregg Popovich pulled all five players off the floor to send a message, sources said.

A player responded, sources said, telling Boylen in essence that they aren’t the Spurs and, more importantly, he isn’t Popovich.

Whoo-boy. That doesn’t sound like a team that is overly interested in giving its all to win. Although Boylen reportedly has the green light from his superiors to be tough on this team, apparently you have to be Pop to be able to be a Pop-level of hard on your players — or something.

When asked about the incident, former Spurs guard (and the ultimate pro in terms of accepting tough coaching) Tony Parker had the following to say:

“You have to earn it, year by year. Pop didn’t become Pop in one year. It takes winning, obviously. Winning helps. And building trust between the players and the coaches. You have to build trust, and yeah, Pop did it (pulling five players at once). I was coming from Europe, I was just trying to make it. When it happened, I waited for my next opportunity.”

Maybe Boylen pounced too quickly on his players and could have been more gradual with his approach, but this is clearly a culture that needs changing. In most cases, teams and players strive to be “the Spurs” (at least the ones of yesteryear) and would love to play for Pop, but not this group. It shows that the Bulls still have a long way to go to get anywhere near their glory days again (Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen must be shaking their heads right now), and this kind of attitude won’t get them there any sooner.

Speaking of the Spurs, how did they only barely squeak by these these guys? Hopefully revenge 4.5 is in order when the “on the brink of mutiny” Bulls visit the AT&T Center this upcoming Saturday — and I say that because other than the importance of every win right now, that one in particular sure felt like a loss in many ways. (Of course, revenge 4.5 will come after 3.0 and 4.0 are delivered to the Suns and Clippers, respectively.)