So you think the Bulls are ashamed, embarrassed, chagrined about the events of the last week that included a coaching change and what some described as a players' revolt that really wasn't quite that? Though it made for a better story.
Well, think again.
Not that anyone's enjoyed the additional scrutiny and being the target of some jokes, but Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson with the team in Mexico City said Wednesday the Bulls are headed in the right direction. No, really.
"As crazy as it may seem, it's actually been a good week for us," Paxson said before the Bulls practice in the Mexico City Arena. "Jim (Boylen, coach) has kind of come in and set his tone. This is a different day and age than it was back when I played, so players have more voice than ever before. But it's something that can be worked on and worked out, and Jim has a real open mind to all these things. So in a lot of ways it's been a really good week.
"The thing that we've talked about is change is difficult," said Paxson. "In this business when you change in mainstream, it could be even more difficult because there's uncertainty with players and things like that. But we're confident that Jim is going to get everybody on the same page and we'll grow from this day forward. We're still not talking about – we keep saying this – this isn't about wins and losses right now. It's about getting the team together, on track, and then those things work themselves out."
The practice that wasn't that became a series of meetings after the historic blowout loss following the coaching change amidst the return of several key players from injuries was the week that shook Bulls basketball. But like with many of these things, there's more picking over the pieces of the story than the reality of the issues. All the players, according to some observers, actually were in practice gear coming into the Advocate Center just a few minutes late, though the rebellion thing sounded so much more interesting. They weren't thrilled, but they were coming to work.
"Just about every team I've been on there's been some kind of team meeting, there's been some type of drama," said Robin Lopez. "That's just the way the NBA goes and you just bounce back from that."
Sometimes it's more public than other times. Like last week at the Advocate Center.
Though anyone would have difficulty identifying a serious issue the way the players as a unit gathered for dinner Wednesday night in Mexico City, and earlier in the day went through a spirited —a new favorite adjective— practice. No leadership councils yet, however. Boylen said Kris Dunn would remain coming off the bench given how long he was out. And Boylen wasn't stepping back much even as Paxson joked he's told Boylen "to slow down. I've told him, ‘You can't change the world in a week.' He's got so many ideas and things he wants to do, so I've kidded with him that he needs to slow it down a little bit."
But Paxson was quick to add it's also why he's so confident in Boylen.
"I was saying it jokingly. I don't want you to write it so it sounds (negative)," Paxson said with a laugh as he seemed more relaxed as well. "I tell him jokingly because he's got so many things in his head. He's trying to get to all of them, and he just needs to kind of settle down, get some sleep. He's got such passion and energy; he'll bring that every day. That's who he is as a person. He brought that as an assistant coach, but it's different when you're the head coach. I just think he's been so excited and jacked up about this chance, and he's got so many ideas, so yeah, I've been joking with him that he's got to slow down.
"He's detailed, he's passionate, and he's holding guys accountable to certain things. We need that," said Paxson. "A young team needs that more than anything. I wouldn't say he's trying too hard. He's so pumped up about the opportunity. We had Tom [Thibodeau] several years ago; he was a 20-year assistant who was waiting for his opportunity. He knew what he wanted and Jim is the same way. He knows exactly what he wants to do, but you have to do it over some time."
But Paxson reiterated that the goal hasn't changed of being still in an evaluation stage in this second year of rebuilding with the right voice and message.
"I wouldn't call it a weeding out," Paxson said. "I said at the very beginning of the year that we were looking at this season as how this group came together. Now we've had the injuries, so we missed out on the first six weeks in that regard. But now we have guys healthy coming back. I think this adds an element that we wouldn't have looked at as closely, but I think it's all for the better. We've talked about being disciplined, patient, I know that's hard for people to understand. We're not even two years into this change and I think it's all going to be healthy in the long run.
"What we've talked about is in the long run if our young guys develop the way we think they can develop and they become top NBA-type players – Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Zach LaVine — and you get to be a pretty good basketball team, I think that sells people wanting to play with guys like that," said Paxson. "You see it all the time. The good players want to play with the other good players, so we'll address that when the time comes. The only thing that discourages me is when there are storylines out there and no one asks our side of the story. It's easy to look from the outside in and gather information from other people around the league that you know, but if you're not coming directly to us how do you really know? I'm confident in what we're doing. I think this will – in some ways as we go along – strengthen us because we have to band together now. There's so much noise out there, so much negativity. I don't feel it inside our building or our locker room. Like I said I think that what happened this past week long-term will be a good thing."