Trailblazers Bulls Basketball

If the Chicago Bulls are to move closer to becoming a part of an NBA playoff picture they were once such a big part of, Zach LaVine must play a major role.

That much is certain.

But how the team’s leading scorer operates within the framework of coach Jim Boylen’s system remains, in itself. a work in progress. LaVine scored a career-high 49 points and tied an NBA record with 13 3-point field goals last week against the Hornets — a performance that came a night after Boylen benched LaVine, which the second-year Bulls coach determined to be a sub-par defensive performance filled with at least three “egregious” mistakes.

When told of Boylen’s assessment, LaVine intimated to reporters that he felt singled out and that surely, there was plenty of blame to go around in a woeful start against the Heat. But therein lies what appears to be a complicated relationship between player and coach and that could continue to be an ongoing theme as the season progresses.

To Boylen, though, his motivation for pushing LaVine in his own way remains simple.

“To me, that’s what coaching is,” Boylen told reporters on Monday. “I have a philosophy – and it’s not this way everywhere – that you coach your best players the hardest. You have the toughest conversations with your best players.”

LaVine, who is averaging 21.1 points per game this season – certainly holds that distinction for the Bulls along with Lauri Markkanen. While Markkanen plays things close to the vest, including his recent struggles shooting the ball, LaVine is more vocal and has become one of the team’s go-to spokesmen when it comes to his own play and that of his team as a whole.

But like anyone who receives the brand of tough love that Boylen appears to pride himself on, how LaVine responds to Boylen’s prodding will be key to the kind of performances he delivers moving forward. Last week’s breakout scoring showcase may have come in direct response to being sat the night before, but such performances can’t be expected each time LaVine is called out by his coach.

But in this case, Boylen appeared to praise LaVine’s response, taking it that his message had been heard loud and clear.

“I’m going to give Zach credit for his game and his play,” Boylen told reporters on Monday. “I just did my job, what I do, (which is have) direct and honest conversations. But I’m proud of him and happy for him.”

Whether that give and take between Boylen and LaVine continues to work for both parties moving forward remains to be seen. What’s clear is that Boylen isn’t going to change his approach in how he deals with his players. Whether his demands on LaVine can continue to light a competitive fire under his starting guard is yet to be seen.

But if LaVine can find ways to turn Boylen’s expectations into solid performances and if LaVine can somehow use his play to motivate his teammates to better themselves, Boylen might just be onto something. Now, if the Bulls hope to keep progressing and eventually work their way back into playoff contention, they’ll need to find some consistency on both an individual and team level.

“We’ve been playing good in stretches,” LaVine told reporters after his stellar performance over the weekend against the Hornets, which including him hitting the game-winner while shooting 17-for-28 from the field. “We just executed to perfection down the stretch (of the Hornets game).

“Hopefully, this is that turning point for us. Every team has it. This could be a big step for us in the right direction.”

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If the Chicago Bulls are to move closer to becoming a part of an NBA playoff picture they were once such a big part of, Zach LaVine must play a major role.

That much is certain.

But how the team’s leading scorer operates within the framework of coach Jim Boylen’s system remains, in itself. a work in progress. LaVine scored a career-high 49 points and tied an NBA record with 13 3-point field goals last week against the Hornets — a performance that came a night after Boylen benched LaVine, which the second-year Bulls coach determined to be a sub-par defensive performance filled with at least three “egregious” mistakes.

When told of Boylen’s assessment, LaVine intimated to reporters that he felt singled out and that surely, there was plenty of blame to go around in a woeful start against the Heat. But therein lies what appears to be a complicated relationship between player and coach and that could continue to be an ongoing theme as the season progresses.

To Boylen, though, his motivation for pushing LaVine in his own way remains simple.

“To me, that’s what coaching is,” Boylen told reporters on Monday. “I have a philosophy – and it’s not this way everywhere – that you coach your best players the hardest. You have the toughest conversations with your best players.”

LaVine, who is averaging 21.1 points per game this season – certainly holds that distinction for the Bulls along with Lauri Markkanen. While Markkanen plays things close to the vest, including his recent struggles shooting the ball, LaVine is more vocal and has become one of the team’s go-to spokesmen when it comes to his own play and that of his team as a whole.

But like anyone who receives the brand of tough love that Boylen appears to pride himself on, how LaVine responds to Boylen’s prodding will be key to the kind of performances he delivers moving forward. Last week’s breakout scoring showcase may have come in direct response to being sat the night before, but such performances can’t be expected each time LaVine is called out by his coach.

But in this case, Boylen appeared to praise LaVine’s response, taking it that his message had been heard loud and clear.

“I’m going to give Zach credit for his game and his play,” Boylen told reporters on Monday. “I just did my job, what I do, (which is have) direct and honest conversations. But I’m proud of him and happy for him.”

Whether that give and take between Boylen and LaVine continues to work for both parties moving forward remains to be seen. What’s clear is that Boylen isn’t going to change his approach in how he deals with his players. Whether his demands on LaVine can continue to light a competitive fire under his starting guard is yet to be seen.

But if LaVine can find ways to turn Boylen’s expectations into solid performances and if LaVine can somehow use his play to motivate his teammates to better themselves, Boylen might just be onto something. Now, if the Bulls hope to keep progressing and eventually work their way back into playoff contention, they’ll need to find some consistency on both an individual and team level.

“We’ve been playing good in stretches,” LaVine told reporters after his stellar performance over the weekend against the Hornets, which including him hitting the game-winner while shooting 17-for-28 from the field. “We just executed to perfection down the stretch (of the Hornets game).

“Hopefully, this is that turning point for us. Every team has it. This could be a big step for us in the right direction.”



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