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Jim Boylan was Scott Skiles's right-hand man, both in Phoenix and here in Chicago with the Bulls, so everyone rightfully wondered what the difference would be when he replaced Skiles as the Bulls' coach. Quite a bit, as it turns out. Boylan must have been Skiles's better half, for lack of a better phrase, in dealing with players, and he quickly proved himself a players' coach compared with Skiles's taskmaster as the Bulls won four of their first six under his leadership. The evidence was there from his first game, when Boylan made a belated and unassuming entrance to the postgame press conference, saying, "Well, I'm kind of new at this, so I don't know if I'm supposed to make some kind of statement or you're just going to ask me some questions, but I do have something to say."
What he said -- to the media and, apparently, to players as well -- was relax and play your game. That the Bulls did. Strategically, Boylan sold Ben Gordon on coming off the bench, while staying with the same core unit Skiles used down the stretch last season -- Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Andres Nocioni, and Ben Wallace -- in crunch time. Hinrich responded with renewed confidence, and Gordon promptly went on a hot shooting streak.
"He told me he would do it, he told me I could count on him," Boylan said that first game of Gordon, "and he came through, so I really have to applaud him for accepting this role and living up to his word."
Even after the Bulls lost a close overtime game to the Orlando Magic on the afternoon of New Year's Eve, Gordon responded in kind, saying of Boylan, "He's been even-keeled. He doesn't get too high or too low on any one possession. When guys see Jim being so calm ... that helps everybody else to relax."
That didn't make everything perfect. The Bulls were still 13-19 entering this week after their rough start, but they were on the rise, with 50 games to go. And Boylan was establishing himself as a dry, witty commentator. After the notoriously brick-throwing Wallace made the game-winning free throw in their victory over the Sacramento Kings Saturday, Boylan said, "I am glad to see my best free-throw shooter got to the line and he came through."
Or, as Boylan said after his first game, "I'm a work in progress, too. So I guess we go hand in hand."