Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
The Chicago Bulls’ decision to hold training camp in Nashville fell under a harsh spotlight Wednesday night after a disastrous season-opening loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
On the one hand, the improved communication and cohesion that served as goals and buzzwords during the remote camp, not to mention an offensive philosophy designed to avoid isolation and stagnation, got tested during a heated third-quarter exchange between Nikola Vučević and coach Billy Donovan.
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On the other, the 20-point blowout loss that drew mild boos from the sellout crowd prompted a players' discussion in the postgame locker room in which the dialogue and hard conversations flowed freely.
“That would’ve never happened last year. It would’ve been a quiet group,” Donovan said. “So the confrontation piece is a sign that it’s important to them. And they know we’ve got to be better.”
Typically, the coaches meet separately in their office while players are in the postgame locker room, talking amongst themselves. When Donovan left his staff debriefing and entered the locker room to see his players having those hard conversations that the Nashville team-bonding activities was supposed to promote, he asked his players if they needed more time.
They said yes.
“I think it was really good for us that we had those. I think it was needed. It was just regular discussions of what needs to be done. A lot of guys said a lot of good things, things that needed to be said. I think we can really use this to learn and change some things that we need to change,” Vučević said. “It wasn’t anything crazy, no fighting or none of that. It was really constructive. It was maybe one of the first times since I’ve been here that this was like this. And it was really needed.
“I started saying some things. I really liked that so many guys jumped in and said so many good things. Not one guy is 100 percent right. Everybody had something to say and sees things differently. And when you have these constructive conversations, they can only bring positive things. I think communication is very important.
“I’ve been on teams in the past where we’ve had those, and it worked almost every time where we were able to really fix some things and move on.”
Added Zach LaVine: “Guys want to win. You put up a game like this in Game One and people are going to have some conversations. Guys are frustrated and you should be. If you’re not frustrated, it says it all. It sucks to have it happen in Game One. It happened. We gotta go from there. Guys are going to speak their mind after a game. Coaches are as well. We all gotta get it out and make sure we’re on the same page. It’s not one individual that lost. It’s the whole team.”
Vučević’s blow-up came during the third quarter after he received a technical foul for throwing the ball against the basket stanchion in frustration following a team defensive breakdown. But it also followed a long stretch in which he barely touched the ball; he went 12 minutes between field-goal attempts bridging the second and third quarters.
“In certain moments, I felt we were a little stagnant and running similar things and I think we could’ve involved myself in certain situations that could’ve helped the team,” Vučević said. “I’ll look at the film again and see. Maybe some of the things I saw were wrong and I overreacted. I’ll see.
“It wasn’t so much just my touches. Just stuff we were running could’ve been better for us in the moment. Some of it was touches, but not necessarily for me to score. Offensively we got a little stagnant and didn’t play with energy and move the ball enough.
“Just unhappy in some of the stuff we’re doing. Obviously, I expressed it a little bit more aggressive than I should’ve in the moment. Those happen in the heat of the moment. You’re trying to win and do what you can to help the team. I didn’t like what was going on. We talked it out. And it’s over with.”
Maybe not. Donovan actually hopes for more hard conversations in the future. To him, they represent a team that cares.
“I’ve said this before: I think confrontation is good. I think it’s healthy. I got all the respect in the world for Vooch. He felt a certain way. And I kind of said what I felt. He’s probably not wrong for feeling the way he did. But how do you channel that in a way that galvanizes the group and lifts them up?” Donovan said. “In the moment, I could’ve handled it better with him and maybe he could’ve handled it better with me. It wasn’t disrespectful or anything. He was just frustrated with the way we were playing. I didn’t blame him. I fell in line with him. But there’s gotta be a way together we can solve those issues and problems.
“I think the confrontation piece is really, really good. I think it’s really healthy. And I think it needs to happen as much as possible.”
Preferably next time during a close game, not a blowout loss to start the season.