There has been no word on whether he plans to do push-ups with the players during the shootaround Friday, but you’d better believe that “Boot Camp’’ Boylen will be back.
For how long? As long as Bulls coach Jim Boylen thinks it will take for his team to understand that toughness is not a part-time job or a volunteer activity.
With 20 games left and fading playoff hopes, the message from Boylen in the wake of Wednesday’s 115-108 loss in Minneapolis was simple: “We’ve got to be tougher.’’
It’s a line in the sand without much wiggle room.
When asked if guys could lose playing time if they continue with their soft ways, Boylen doubled down.
“Yeah, we need to play our minutes with more force and more energy,’’ he said. “When you’ve been out and you come back, the speed of the game is tough. And you obviously had a little bit of thought about yourself — ‘How am I going to get going? What am I going to do?’ That’s part of this process. What I’m talking about is you’ve got to play your minutes with force, whether you haven’t played in two months . . . play hard, compete, rebound the ball. That’s all I’m talking about.’’
That’s the balancing act that Boylen has to walk the next six weeks, however.
Lauri Markkanen missed more than a month with a pelvis injury, Otto Porter Jr. missed 17 weeks with a broken left foot, Wendell Carter Jr. was dealing with an injured right ankle for almost two months, and just when all three were back on the court together, Zach LaVine missed the last two games with an injured quadriceps.
Boylen insisted several times that he understood that.
Toughness, however, should be the fabric of the team, missed time or not.
“That [cohesiveness] will work itself out,’’ Boylen said. “We’ll practice, our rotations will become more firm as we get healthier and guys’ minutes go up. That will happen. But when you do play your minutes, you need to play them with more physicality. Again, we’ve got guys coming back. NBA games are hard, I get it . . . I get it. But it’s not who we’re going to be.’’
But there’s a danger in all of this. Players aren’t naïve, especially NBA players. The entire locker room heard the stories that were coming out during the All-Star break — that the front office was headed for a new look, and that new look could include a new general manager who wants his own coach and staff.
So Boylen wants to turn the heat up on his players — sort of like he did when he first took over from Fred Hoiberg and went back to suicide sprints and heavy practice time — but it will be easier for them to tune him out if they think he has just over a month left on the job.
That’s why it will be interesting to see how far Boylen is willing to push to get this group to fully understand his brand of basketball.
Bulls COO Michael Reinsdorf and vice president of basketball operations John Paxson fully backed Boylen earlier this season, but that was months ago and under different circumstances.
“Boot Camp’’ Boylen might be back, but that doesn’t mean the players will be fully interested in participating, unless Reinsdorf or Paxson comes out in the next few weeks and gives Boylen a public vote of confidence.