Rumors tend to run rampant over rigorous 82-game NBA seasons. Whispers of potential trades and staffing changes become yells and cries for their jobs, and Fred Hoiberg in Chicago is certainly no exception. It’s a long season, year in and year out, starting in late October and ending in mid-April, and that’s just the regular season. With as many changes as the league has gone through over the past three years alone, expectations are that certain players and coaches (or other team personnel for that matter) fall onto the hot seat. Such rumors have circulated recently for the first time this year in the NBA surrounding the Bulls and second-year head coach Fred Hoiberg, thanks to a recent article written by ESPN’s Marc Stein (seriously, check it out if you haven’t yet). We now have some dirt on the situation between Fred Hoiberg and General Manager Gar Forman & Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson.
Hoiberg was not-so-subtly Forman’s golden-boy since before Chicago let go of highly successful first-time coach Tom Thibodeau. It was clear that Forman & Paxson had a man in mind who they thought would get the job done for them that they requested. Simple enough task, right?
Not so fast. After a disappointing first year in Chicago, where the Bulls ended up 42-40 and missed the playoffs, many fans questioned whether or not Hoiberg was the right man for the job. Their claims held decent merit. After all, a team with players such as Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol should’ve been able to contend in the Eastern Conference. Just a year prior, Chicago was up 2-1 on the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals after a phenomenal Derrick Rose game-winner.
Now, 33 games into Hoiberg’s second season with a complete roster overhaul, the Bulls are “underachieving” with a record of 16-17.
|Players Lost||Players Added|
|Derrick Rose||Dwyane Wade|
|Joakim Noah||Rajon Rondo|
|Pau Gasol||Robin Lopez|
|Mike Dunleavy||Jerian Grant|
|Aaron Brooks||Isaiah Canaan|
|Justin Holiday||Denzel Valentine|
|E’Twaun Moore||Paul Zipser|
|Michael Carter-Williams* (traded)|
As stated above, this roster underwent a complete overhaul after Hoiberg’s first season. After teaching his offensive and defensive schemes to a roster that rejected him because they didn’t fit his schemes, Chicago’s ownership asked him to do it once again. However this time around, Forman and Paxson managed to give Hoiberg an even worse roster (personnel wise) for his schemes.
Marc Stein brought up some excellent points in the article I linked above that I’d like to touch up on (spoiler alert if you haven’t read his article yet). Stein brought up the fact that when there’s something wrong with a team and within an organization, the easiest scapegoat is the coach. This is an excellent and crucial point because the spotlight will always be on the guy in a suit leading his team on the arena floor, rather than the businessmen pulling strings behind the scenes.
Stein also brought up another excellent point: Forman’s billing of Hoiberg himself. When the Bulls announced that they were hiring the former Iowa State head coach to his first NBA coaching stint, Forman (and Paxson) sung the praises of Hoiberg, especially his offensive schemes, touting him as an offensive guru. After going 48-47 in his first 95 games as the Bulls head coach, the Bulls’ offense under Hoiberg is as stagnant and isolation-reliant as it was before Hoiberg, according to Stein.
With all of the struggles, between all of the personnel changes (both with Hoiberg’s players and the rest of his coaching staff), offensive and defensive struggles, underachieving record, and disappointing showings against unimpressive competition, Hoiberg has reportedly found himself on the hot seat. Hoiberg was approached for a comment on the recent rumblings of him being on the hot seat before Friday’s game against the Indiana Pacers.
Someone just mentioned something to me about that. You know I don’t know anything about it, so I’m not going to comment on it. I’ve got a job to do, which is to try and put this team in a position to go out and win basketball games. Like probably 24 other coaches, I’m trying to find a way for us to go out and play consistent basketball on a nightly basis.
It’s not exactly unheard of for a coach to find himself on the hot seat after less than 100 games. While it is not typical, a lot of things happen in an ever-evolving league like the NBA, and not every puzzle piece fits with another as it was designed in production to do so. As stated above, the most expendable part of any team is the head coach. Naturally, all eyes fall onto Hoiberg and all fingers point towards him for the Bulls shortcomings under his tenure.
Taking a deeper look below the initial surface of these issues, one might see that there are larger issues looming, some beyond Hoiberg’s control. With rumblings and rumors of the Iowa State standout stumbling his way onto the hot seat after a quick 95 games, one has to wonder if he is the right person to be on the hot seat, or if two other businessmen are the culprits who should be finding themselves scorned on the hot seat.
Gar Forman and John Paxson are not immune to criticism. Many fans have been criticizing the ownership duo’s decision making for the past few years. Having ammunition to use such as poor draft decisions, lack of perimeter threats, and poor free agency decisions, criticism of Forman & Paxson comes rather easily. After all, Forman and Paxson have done a pretty poor job in setting Fred Hoiberg up in a position for success.
The facts are not hard to come across. A lot of faults we tend to attribute to Fred Hoiberg can be traced deeper to decisions made by Forman and Paxson. After all, their drafting has been sub-par in recent years (notables including Tony Snell and Marquis Teague). It’s unclear whether second-year swingman Bobby Portis will find a spot in the rotation again this season. Nikola Mirotic has been inconsistent as ever, although he has been playing well as of recently. Aside from Jimmy Butler himself, the Bulls draft picks have been pretty lackluster in recent years (way too early to report on Denzel Valentine).
Every coach has a specific style and scheme to run on both offense and defense. Coaching schemes happen at all levels of basketball, sans maybe middle school and below. Aside from a very basic rendition of motion offense, every coach will have a different scheme than the next coach, or a modified scheme of a different coach. With most of those schemes, however, the right personnel is required to run both sides of the ball effectively.
After trading away former Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose and letting star big men Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah walk in free agency, the ownership duo in Chicago came out and said that their goal was to get “younger and more athletic.” Fans were clamoring at the idea of who the Bulls could have potentially signed. After all, Hoiberg’s scheme preaches spacing, constant movement, and smooth transition – qualities that younger and more athletic guys could bring.
What was the next logical step for Forman & Paxson? Signing Rajon Rondo to a one-year, likely one-off deal. Some fans were excited about the signing, and some were dreading what they believed lied ahead. Either way, the signing did not help Chicago become younger nor more athletic.
Chicago still had a decent amount of cap room to play around with. There was a decent amount of young talent the Bulls could’ve invested in if they were going towards retooling instead of rebuilding. Instead, Forman & Paxson decided to go all-in and put all of their chips into signing Chicago-native Dwyane Wade.
Before I say this, let me state that Wade has been one of the few bright spots for Chicago this year. However, if the ownership duo was going to head towards becoming younger and more athletic, signing Wade to a two-year contract was not the ideal move. The best roster move the Bulls have made since the end of last season was trading Tony Snell straight up for Michael Carter-Williams.
With the promise of a younger, more athletic team, the Bulls are older and less athletic than they have been in recent memory. While a fun team on paper at the start of the season, it’s highly probable that this team is destined for basketball purgatory – too good for a good position in the lottery, but too bad to legitimately compete in the Eastern Conference.
The pressure should be on in Chicago. It should be on every member of the organization from the ground up. The players have to feel the pressure to overperform throughout the rest of the season if they want to have a fighting chance of still competing by the time May rolls around. The coaching staff, including Fred Hoiberg, needs to feel the pressure to potentially make a few tweaks to their schemes and rotations to best fit the personnel and not worry about the personnel fitting the scheme.
Most of all, the pressure needs to be square on the shoulders of Gar Forman & John Paxson, sitting behind closed doors and hiding away from all of the blame. If the team fails to make the playoffs this year, it needs to go above and beyond a coaching change. Gar Forman and John Paxson should feel the heat as they, not Fred Hoiberg, should be the ones on the hot seat. Fool me once (by firing Tom Thibodeau), shame on you. Fool me twice (by firing Tom Thibodeau and Fred Hoiberg), and you should get the boot as well.