Toughness is still an issue for the Bulls

One of the reasons vice president of basketball operations John Paxson gave Jim Boylen a vote of confidence Saturday is that the coach has been teaching the right things in Paxson’s mind.

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Bulls point guard Kris Dunn gets what coach Jim Boylen has been trying to do. Then again, he is one of the few players on the roster who passes Boylen’s toughness test.

So while Dunn knows the disdain many Bulls fans have for Boylen, he thinks some are missing the bigger picture.

‘‘I don’t know if it’s energy or we’re locked in to our assignments, but you’ve got to have fun with it,’’ Dunn said when discussing the Bulls’ toughness carrying over from practice to games. ‘‘You can’t worry about the ‘he said, she said,’ the media, any of that. You’ve just got to have fun, compete.

‘‘When adversity hits in a game, that has to be the fun part. You get to see who is going to buckle down, who is going to go out there and play with heart. That’s what Jim preaches: Play with toughness, play with heart and don’t back down. That’s the city of Chicago.’’

The Bulls have been getting a lot of work in the toughness department, be it in drills that include pads and contact or Boylen just speaking to his players about understanding that the NBA is a physical league.

The problem is, it hasn’t been registering with everyone.

‘‘We all want to win, and we talked openly that the goal [this season] was to compete for a playoff spot,’’ vice president of basketball operations John Paxson said when discussing the frustration of the season so far. ‘‘Our players believed that, and they still have something to say about that.

‘‘This is a combination of everything. One of the struggles that we’ve had is that when physicality presents itself to them in a game, they don’t always respond. That’s just a truth, and that’s cost us in a lot of games.

‘‘It’s very easy to point a finger at Coach or something like that, and I’m not going to convince anyone of anything else and I’m never going to try. I see things that I know that they’re emphasizing correctly. To me, it’s that carryover into games. At some point, that has to change.’’

As far as Paxson is concerned, the players have to embrace the toughness Boylen is preaching.

‘‘Right now, there’s nothing we’re going to do,’’ Paxson said, insisting there are no roster moves imminent. ‘‘We’ve got to keep developing these young kids, and they’ve got to play harder, they’ve got to play better. They’ve got to do all the things that pros do. This is where we’re at, and as frustrated as I am and Jim is and our players are that we haven’t won more games, we’ve got to keep grinding it out.’’

That’s why Boylen won’t stop emphasizing toughness, even if his players are getting worn down by the message.

‘‘We’ve played really good defense,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘We need to have more of that on the offensive end of the floor. Sometimes it’s as simple as the ball going in a little bit and our mindset [and] our confidence change. But when people crawl into us, I think we’ve got to grit our teeth, we’ve got to slow down, not speed up, and we’ve got to play lower. We’ve got to embrace the contact, and we’ve got to play through it.

‘‘Some of that is just maturity. Some of that is what we have to experience and then grow with it.’’

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