Fred Hoiberg to add a personal touch to the Bulls


Fred Hoiberg to add a personal touch to the Bulls

Fred Hoiberg sat on the podium for his first Media Day like it was his 15th, cracking sly jokes, smiling easily and appearing relaxed without a hint of arrogance headed into his first training camp.

Of course, smiling came as easy as passing a kidney stone to Tom Thibodeau, but personality aside, Hoiberg is replacing a successful coach who gave this team an identity it lacked for so long.

Hoiberg’s task is to build on the foundation, one he readily acknowledges was established by Thibodeau through five years of grinding, prodding and more prodding.

Hoiberg’s signature may be a little softer but possibly—and hopefully for his sake—just as successful. The Hoiberg affect may be more personal, it may be more of an actual touch.

[MORE: Derrick Rose proclaims his innocence in strongest statements to date]

So when he had lunch with Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, the man who took over for a successful coach and led his team to an NBA title, Hoiberg took note.

“We talked about when he took over, some of the things that he felt were important to do,” Hoiberg said. “And that was one thing he mentioned, I felt coming into the job that I felt I had to get out and see everybody. So after the summer league was over, that was my priority.”

So he loaded up on the frequent flyer miles, going to see each of his players in their respective element after the Las Vegas Summer League. Whether it was seeing Derrick Rose in Los Angeles or Jimmy Butler in San Diego or Joakim Noah in Santa Barbara, he met them on their turf, to introduce himself, to let them know a little about himself.

Not to establish that he wasn’t Thibodeau, but to show them he wasn’t going to be some empty suit.

“As far as the goal of going out and seeing everybody, it was really just to build the relationships up with them,” Hoiberg said. “And show them some areas where I thought they might get the ball on the floor so they could work on those skills when they were away from the gym here in Chicago.”

[RELATED: Derrick Rose admits to looking ahead to 2017 free agency]

Most coaches will tell you there’s only so much strategy that comes with being successful, that establishing a connection that will result in getting some stubborn men to join together for one singular goal.

“It’s going to be a little adjustment, but it should be challenging and fun at the same time,” Rose said. “We know that we love playing basketball, being under Thibs system for so long that now it’s a new vibe to the team, a new coach. He brings something new to the table where he’s more relaxed. I think the players should appreciate that more, I think we should appreciate it more.”

That’s not a shot at Thibodeau, but perhaps an admission that things were a bit sterile on his watch. Butler said Hoiberg’s approach has permeated through the entire coaching staff. 

“I’m excited. You see the way that they work together as a whole with coach Hoiberg,” Butler said. “They’re always out here with the guys working with the guys getting up shots, helping them work on their game. That’s important because you really get a knack for the guy you’re around and you get to understand and feel them, not only on the court but off the court.

“I think that’s just as important, so you know what’s going on in their personal life, so you can relate to them and all. They work really hard with that and always ask how we’re doing. And when we play basketball, it’s time for business. But other than that, they’re really good people too.”

[MORE: Gibson, Dunleavy give different outlooks on injury front]

The man who hired him, who seemingly bumped heads with Thibodeau and won, Gar Forman, has noticed the change. But again, it should be stated, the warm and fuzzy talk had better be accompanied by W’s.

“You can see the players responding to it,” Forman said. “And I think the players are as excited as we are about everything Fred's going to bring to the table. He's had a great summer. Our guys have responded and that's been a real positive.”

It all begins with two-a-days, and Hoiberg will have to make tough decisions on playing time, hierarchy and rotations. In other words, the honeymoon won’t last long with everybody.

“Training camp's going to be very competitive,” Hoiberg said. “When we step out on that floor tomorrow for the first time, I know those guys are going to be going at it and going after each other.”

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment


Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”

Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie


Lauri Markkanen nearly 'Finnishes' in Skills Challenge against former Bull Spencer Dinwiddie

Los Angeles—Lauri Markkanen called himself “The Finnisher” when asked what the movie of his life would be called.

Apparently, that moniker didn’t apply to the All-Star Skills challenge as he took down the best big men but couldn’t close against a former Bull, Spencer Dinwiddie, in the final.

The contest highlights players’ ability to dribble around cones shaped like NBA logos, throwing a chest pass into a net while having to complete a layup and then 3-pointer before their opponent does.

Markkanen took down Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid before facing off with Dinwiddie. He held a pose after hitting a triple to beat the uber confident Embiid, in what will likely be used as a memorable gif following the weekend.

His confidence doesn’t come across as blatantly as Embiid’s, but that snapshot shows he’s no humble star in the making. He didn’t even practice for the contest, by his own admission.

“I heard some of the guys did,” Markkanen said. “I didn’t do much, just before the competition, I did a little warm-up.”

Missing on the first pass attempt into the circular net in the final, it gave Dinwiddie the advantage he wouldn’t relinquish, hitting on his second 3-point attempt before Markkanen could make it downcourt to contest.

“It’s a lot harder than I’ve seen,” Markkanen said. “I thought it was gonna be super easy but it was kind of tough. Maybe I need to hold my follow through (on the pass).”

“I saw he missed (the first shot) and I started going. I thought he would’ve missed it too. I think I would’ve gotten it on the third shot.”

Being one of the multi-dimensional big men in today’s game who can be adept on the perimeter as well as the interior, it almost seems like the contest was made for Markkanen. Although he doesn’t do much handling in Fred Hoiberg’s offense, it’s clearly a skill he will develop as time goes on.

The last two winners of the skills challenge were Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, and Markkanen was well aware of the recent trend.

“The last two years the bigs have won,” Markkanen said. “I’m kind of pissed that I couldn’t keep the streak going after (those two). I think there’s a lot of guys who can do that now, it’s why they changed the format to bigs versus smalls.”

For Dinwiddie, who was discarded by the Bulls last season after a promising start in the preseason so they could pick up R.J. Hunter, he’s taken advantage of an opportunity with Brooklyn.

“I think for Chicago it was just another series of unfortunate events,” he said. “They were in win-now mode. I was an unproven guard on a non-guaranteed contract and they felt Michael Carter-Williams gave them a better shot to win.”