LOS ANGELES – Jim Boylen doesn’t deal in empty warnings.
He’s been very matter-of-fact in what he asks of his players since taking over the Bulls coaching seat from Fred Hoiberg on Dec. 3, and if those requests aren’t met there are consequences.
If Boylen sees a fourth quarter in which guys look winded, they are running suicides in practice the next day. If mistakes are made in practice, there are pushups handed out. If a player doesn’t want to show effort on both ends of the floor, well, he’ll probably find himself sitting at the end of the bench on game night right next to Jabari Parker.
There are exceptions, however, especially when it comes to a starting unit where the average age [22.5] isn’t old enough to rent a car.
“I mean experience is the best teacher,’’ guard Zach LaVine said.
That’s what Boylen is holding on to, and that’s why the coach will continue riding the starting group of LaVine, Kris Dunn, Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Chandler Hutchison as they learn to sink or swim together.
“I think there’s some force-feeding going on, and then there’s going to come a point where … we are young, our starting group is 22.5 years old. That’s the reality of it, that’s not an excuse, and we’ve got to learn how to win,’’ Boylen said, when asked if changes need to be made to that group. “We’ll probably give them some opportunity to show us they can do it.’’
They sure didn’t Saturday night in Utah, as the bench had one of its better showings since Boylen took over, doing all they could to hand the baton off to the starters for the final sprint.
It turned into yet another stumble.
With just over seven minutes left in the game and just a three-point deficit, Boylen went back to most of his starters – Wayne Selden stayed in a bit longer for Hutchison – and then watched the group allow Utah to go on a 13-3 run over the next five minutes.
Too much isolation ball, not enough physicality on the boards, and just a lack of that killer instinct that Boylen has been trying to reinforce.
“It is disappointing,’’ Boylen said. “We’ve got to get that killer mentality, we’ve got to make those plays. I thought we had the plays to make, and we didn’t make them. I thought we had the opportunity to score the ball and we didn’t do it. Then you’ve got to rebound it in the fourth and you’ve got to get stops.’’
It’s not like this unit hasn’t shown it can do it.
The home loss to Indiana in overtime last week was a thing of beauty for the Bulls, especially with the core three of LaVine, Markkanen and Dunn all having special moments in that game.
But this isn’t the business of showing up once every three or four games, or relying on two rookies in Carter Jr. and Hutchison to carry-out late game heroics.
No, this falls on Markkanen, Dunn and LaVine to figure it out in what is a key developmental year for the trio.
“I keep repeating myself, it just comes down to plays and us not making them at the right time,’’ LaVine said. “We got to get better at [executing]. We’ve got to find ways to get good shots. We had a couple good ones [against the Jazz]. I know I did, and I’ve got to capitalize on them. I’m upset that I didn’t do that for the team, but we’re going out there fighting.’’
And for now, Boylen has little choice but allow them to.