Working towards a new standard of play

Larger abstract issues always grow from smaller events, and so it was with the Bulls players' apparent pushback on practice Sunday after the back to back games and 56-point loss. The theme often became, "What's the matter with these kids today?" You know, why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way.

"I kind of have to laugh a little bit about these things because when did it become a bad thing to practice a little bit harder?" Bulls Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson told Chicago reporters Wednesday in Mexico City. "We've lengthened the season, we don't have as many back-to-backs, don't have the four in five nights anymore. To get better as a player you have to practice. Offseason, I see all these things from players on how they're in the gym two, three times a day. Well, if we want to have them in our gym for two hours working hard, I think that's OK.

"We had Tom Thibodeau here for years and he coached hard," Paxson pointed out. "He worked guys hard, demanded. And then we got criticized for relationships with him. It's all backwards to me. I don't look at this as old school. I look at this as setting a standard of how you want to play every day. I think great players, players that want to be part of a team, buy into those things. And, like I said, if guys don't want to buy in then it will be on me and Gar (Forman, general manager) to figure that out.'

But what of NBA players today? You know, noisy, crazy, dirty, lazy, loafers, unwilling to work like their ancestors? Kids!

Of course, these kinds of complaints have come up in every generation.

But is it the NBA's doing?

After all, as Paxson pointed out, the NBA has stretched out the season, limiting the numbers of back to back games and eliminating the four-in-five-nights sets players (and coaches) so despised. Plus, in the last collective bargaining agreement, the league and the players agreed to eliminate two-a-day practices in training camp, which were standard, limit the number of practice days and reduce the number of preseason games.

Actually, that sounds like a message from the NBA itself to take things easier.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen worked as an assistant to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and was quick to note Popovich executed those five-player substitutions that were an issue in the Boston loss.

But it also was Popovich—and who was much imitated because of his success—who set the standard for resting players. Popovich frequently sent players home from road trips, reduced their playing time in games, gave them in season breaks of a week at a time and cut practices in the name of being healthier for the playoffs. Even the NBA began to balk at that with some new rules about skipping televised games.

After all, if the message to the players from the league itself and its most honored coach who was selected to coach the Olympic team is to rest more, is it the fault of the players to bring that up in the midst of a hectic period of Bulls games?

Boylen was asked that before Bulls practice in Mexico City Friday.

"I guess you could interpret it that way, but that doesn't deter us from having to come into practice and work," said Boylen. "It doesn't deter us from having a difficult moment or difficult loss and coming in and being together and working. The NBA is going to do what they think they need to do for the product of the league; and we're going to do what we think we need to do for the wellness and preparation of our team.

"Pop did do that," Boylen acknowledged about his rest message for players. "And he's terrific at it. He had a veteran, established team that knew what he wanted, knew the system. In San Antonio, they have standards of behavior and standards of play. We are establishing those. And we can't do that without practicing and without being pushed. We're just in a different place than them. Nothing wrong with it. Nothing good or bad. Just a different place. We're going to work hard. Guys love to work. Guys want to be pushed. This is more about them needing to know how we're going to do it here than anything and what's expected."