This might be Jim Boylen's first full season as an NBA head coach, but Rudy Tomjanovich believes that his basketball experience - starting from video coordinator and working up to head coach - has put him in a good position to succeed.
Rudy Tomjanovich, the five-time NBA All-Star and back-to-back champion coach of the Houston Rockets, says he's especially looking forward to this NBA season.
Tomjanovich lives in Austin now, but remains close with his Rockets. So he's anxious to see how the James Harden and Russell Westbrook duo performs for his former team. Tomjanovich closed his expected Hall of Fame career coaching the Lakers in 2005, so he's interested in seeing Anthony Davis with LeBron James. As one of the legends of U. of Michigan basketball, the Hamtramck native is curious about former Bull Derrick Rose joining the Detroit Pistons with Blake Griffin.
"I am very excited for this season to start for a lot of reasons," Tomjanovich said from Austin last week. "But one of the main ones is that Jim (Boylen, Bulls coach) will have a team with a training camp where he can put in his system. It's so tough to do in the middle of the year. I did that, so I know (30 games with the 91-92 Rockets). It's not a good barometer. Jim was heading in that direction for so long. He is such a dedicated coach."
"I was lucky as an ex-player to get the chance I did, but I had to be convinced I wanted to be a head coach," Tomjanovich admitted. "Jim knew this was his destiny and he's prepared for this moment almost his whole life. He's been pointing toward this thing and it is like dream come true. I am so happy for him."
Boylen coached 58 games for the Bulls last season after replacing Fred Hoiberg in December. But it was a disjoined debut with a major trade for Otto Porter Jr., and sustained and substantial injuries sandwiched around a could-be glimpse with a 6-3 mark through the quadruple overtime win in Atlanta. Then came more injuries and, let's say, a diverse roster to close the season.
But the Bulls upgraded after last season with the addition of veterans like Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky and No. 7 draft pick Coby White. Gone are at least a half dozen players from the G-league and overseas and a priority that emphasizes playoff competition. With Boylen having that first full training camp to sort out the new roster and Monday hosting Milwaukee in the first preseason game.
The Bulls come into this season perhaps as optimistic as they have been since the end of the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah era, in part with the addition of Boylen.
"Jim has shown he is a very good communicator with the players," said Bulls Executive Vice-president of Basketball Operations John Paxson. "He speaks the truth to them and does so in a way that these guys know he wants them to be successful. He invests time in them and that is powerful. Being a good head coach is as much about leadership and relationships as anything else, and he is excellent in both areas."
It's something Tomjanovich understands well as both a star former player and coach who guided a Houston team with basically one All-Star in Hakeem Olajuwon to a pair of NBA championships. One of Tomjanovich's assistant's during those high times was Boylen, the coaching lifer — also from the state of Michigan — who spent 11 years and those two championships with Tomjanovich.
Jim Boylen (third from right, back row) and the 93-94 Championship Rockets
Rudy, as beloved around the NBA as the Notre Dame folklore hero was around his own campus, thus became something of a mentor for Boylen. Boylen has coached under a legion of legends that has included Gregg Popovich, Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo and also with the Bucks and Pacers. But Boylen spent by far the most time with Tomjanovich, working up from the dank video room to the bright lights of championship parades.
"He's one of the hardest working guys I've even been around," Tomjanovich said about Boylen. "He is going to study it and explore things. He's had projects he's told me over the years, unique ideas about things to do as coach. Now he's ready to implement them. He's talked to so many people about it, outsourced things. Which I think is a very valuable quality. I've always felt a coach should keep learning and adjusting to what is going on, and Jim is one of those guys to constantly do that."
"We've talked a few times in the summer and now I can't wait to watch the Bulls games. It feels like a family member coaching the team," said Tomjanovich.
Though Tomjanovich is an Ann Arbor legend whose No. 45 is retired by Michigan, he welcomed Boylen after Boylen toiled five years as a Spartans assistant with Heathcote. Boylen started at the NBA coaching basement, figuratively and literally, which is the film room for long all nighters after games in order to have the tapes ready for practice the next morning.
Though humanitarian that Tomjanovich is, he insisted all his assistants participate.
"He did everything on our staff," Tomjanovich recalls. "He started as a video guy. I did that job too, so I knew there's a loneliness, being trapped in a tape room and not being with the players. So I rotated guys and had them be a part working with the players and being with the players."
It gave Boylen an unexpected step up and fit who he was as a teacher.
"We always talked about the differences of moving over to the next seat, how it changes completely," said Tomjanovich. "It's easy to make suggestions. But as head coach even when you don't make a decision, that's a decision. He's prepared for that. And in this era the way everything is looked at and critiqued, it's tough being an professional coach with so much scrutiny and what I call everyone being on a panel. You got guys trying to top the other guy on each panel. There's one panel at the game. Then they switch to someone else with another panel after the game and they have to come up with more things. So it's not an easy an gig."
Though Tomjanovich says where Boylen will excel is perhaps less with navigating through all the critics than being the guy the players can rely upon.
"Jim is a very good hands on coach," said Tomjanovich. "What an asset to have as an assistant like that. This guy loves teaching, and he is very good at it, footwork, ball handing, just attitude. He's a guy that loves being a part of a team. When he puts his hand in that huddle, it means something. It's an important thing for him. That's what he lives off, that connection."
Houston across their chests back then, too? Clutch city!
"I was very happy to have a guy like that who really connected with the players," said Tomjanovich. "They had an ally. I always felt it was good for a player to have an ally on the sidelines. I'm sure he's going to continue to still do that as a head coach. He can't do it quite as much because you have to be thinking about the whole picture, but I do think that's important where they believe you really do want the best for them. That's one of his best qualities."
And so the first full season as an NBA coach, a lifelong dream come true at 54, effectively starts with Monday's preseason opener in the United Center. From Grand Rapids and the U. of Maine where he was runner-up player of the year to Reggie Lewis, through East Lansing, Utah, San Antonio, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and various points west, Jim Boylen comes to embrace Chicago.
"It's very emotional for me," Boylen admitted. "It's very humbling to be there and to be in this position. It's still sinking in, in a way, although I've been thinking about this team all summer. I've said this before, we've just got to get this right; we've got to do it right. That's my goal. It's not about me being the head coach. We've got to get it right for the city, we've got to get it right for the Reinsdorfs, we've got to get it right for John Paxson. We've got to get it right, man. That's my goal and with all that experience working for other people. That's what we're going to try to do."
Jim Boylen, John Paxson & Gar Forman address the media during Media Day