SOMETIME IN OCTOBER 2019, Joe Boylan, then an assistant coach with the New Orleans Pelicans, received an unexpected text from Brandon Ingram -- one of the franchise's new stars, acquired months earlier in the Anthony Davis trade.
"I trust you now," the message began.
Ingram urged Boylan to coach him hard, invited Boylan to "motherf---" him if necessary, whatever it took. It was the same message Ingram had delivered to New Orleans higher-ups on his first day there, when he walked into the office of Jeff Bzdelik, then the Pelicans' lead assistant, and declared, "I think I have greatness in me. I want you to get it out of me, and I don't care what you do," several in that room recalled.
Days after that text, Ingram arrived a few minutes late to his appointment at the training table. That was not unusual. Ingram is a night owl. Boylan lit into him in front of the training staff: "This is why the Lakers got rid of you! This motherf---er wants to be great? No! He wants to be comfortable."
Boylan's delivery was so over the top, everyone knew it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Boylan reminded Ingram that his lateness delayed players behind him on the schedule.
Ingram smiled and took it. "I like being called out," he said. "Players at this level think they're above that. I'm still a few minutes late sometimes, but I'm much better."
Perry Tyndall, Ingram's coach at Kinston High School in eastern North Carolina, called out Ingram only once -- when Ingram shrugged and refused to make eye contact as Tyndall criticized Kinston's starters for losing to backups in practice. Tyndall ripped Ingram. He felt bad about it almost right away.
When Tyndall arrived home, he was surprised to receive a text from Ingram apologizing. "I realized I'm being cussed at for a reason," Ingram said. "If I'm the leader of this team, that is going to trickle down. I had to be sharper. I had to be on top of my s---."
When Ingram and Stan Van Gundy met at Ingram's rental home in Miami in October for their first sit-down, Ingram told his new coach he was ready for heavy scrutiny. "What struck me was how self-aware he was," Van Gundy said. Ingram admitted to Van Gundy that his defense had slipped as he embraced a larger scoring role. Ingram vowed to improve his playmaking. After earning individual glory -- plus a new five-year, $158 million contract -- Ingram was ready to focus on passing and defense.
"One of the blessings of him being an All-Star and getting that contract is that he is at peace that you know he's really good," said David Griffin, the Pelicans' personnel chief. "He's just playing his game."
Van Gundy walked out of Ingram's house and called his brother, Jeff, a decorated coach and current analyst for ESPN. "This guy," Van Gundy told his brother, "is the real deal."
Ingram is one of the most important swing players in determining the NBA's balance of power. If he becomes the player he thinks he can be -- a two-way superstar who approaches double digits in assists -- the Pelicans have a chance to contend for titles around Ingram and Zion Williamson. Boylan often told Ingram that New Orleans could win championships if he became their Scottie Pippen.