Bulls

Fred Hoiberg believes NBA experience with multiple 'strong personalities' could help him coach new-look Bulls

Fred Hoiberg believes NBA experience with multiple 'strong personalities' could help him coach new-look Bulls

The team Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg inherited last season is vastly different than the one he’ll start training camp preparation for next week, along with the external expectations looking more like a question mark than one of conference contention.

Still, though, he couldn’t contain his excitement as he made a trip to his native Iowa and sat down with CSNChicago.com for an interview.

He’s still dealing with being the man who replaced Tom Thibodeau as coach but in his second season, he believes he’s much more comfortable in his position and his adjustment to the scrutiny that comes with being in a large media market.

And with a roster makeover that featured Derrick Rose get traded to New York along with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol leaving via free agency, perhaps he gets a second chance at a first impression after an up and down season that saw the Bulls miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

“We did have a lot of injuries but there’s no excuse for me,” Hoiberg said. “I’ve got to get them playing more consistent basketball. “

“We’ve got to be more consistent on a nightly basis and that’s on me.”

The Bulls added veterans and former champions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in free agency, a surprise to many around the NBA as the Bulls opted for talent and experience as opposed to natural basketball fit — an awkward setup on paper that will fall at Hoiberg’s feet when camp begins next month.

“The biggest thing is we have multiple playmakers now, we have guys who can get in and break down the defense,” Hoiberg said. “That’s the most important thing to have on an NBA roster is multiple ballhandlers, multiple playmakers. Bigs who are gonna set screens and put pressure on the rim.”

[MORE BULLS: Ten games to mark down on the Bulls' 2016-17 schedule]

Hoiberg parroted what the Bulls front office has been saying since Rondo and Wade have been brought aboard, highlighting the fact they made free agency additions without sacrificing some of the youth on the roster.

“Rondo is a point guard who I think will thrive in the system we like to run and then to get Dwyane, we didn’t have to give up any of the young pieces in the process,” Hoiberg said. “We’re able to stay competitive with players with championship experience. To pair those two guys with Jimmy Butler, it’ll be a dynamic and exciting backcourt.”

Figuring out how to handle three ball dominant perimeter players, including one in Wade where his minutes and workload will be monitored from Day One, will be among his biggest challenges he and the trio faces.

None are great perimeter shooters and Hoiberg has made no secret of wanting to play a fast pace offense where 3-pointers can fly early and often.

“It’s gonna take sacrifice,” Hoiberg said. “When you have guys who can put up big numbers every night, there’s gonna be sacrifice involved and guys will have to buy into their roles. It may not be your night every time you take the floor. But if everybody buys in, we have a chance to do a lot of good things this year.”

He worked Rondo out last week, helping him with a hitch in his shot that he hopes will lead to improved outside shooting (36 percent last season). With Wade, the two exchanged texts about what Hoiberg foresees as an evolving vision of what the offense could look like early.

“Those guys will be in, in September to help the young guys along and start developing that important chemistry which is the most important thing for our group next year,” he said. “You have two guys who’ll be good in that department. You have Jimmy, a young player, young superstar who’s grown into that role. It’s gonna be good and hopefully it’ll click early.”

With “hopefully” being the key word, he admits there isn’t an expectation for things to look smoothly from the onset, as figuring out ways to maximize the shooting while likely having two of the three perimeter players on the floor and getting enough defense and rebounding at the same time.

“We’ll have to have the right rotations out there,” Hoiberg said. “It probably won’t be the first week where we’re clicking and everything is determined.”

He made the comparison in terms of the circumstances to perhaps the best team he played on, the 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves. Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell were added to a team that couldn’t escape the first round and they went to the Western Conference Finals on the back of MVP Kevin Garnett.

“We had three strong personalities, three very good players,” Hoiberg said. “It took a while but once it got going we were off and running and had the best record in the West.”

In context, no one can expect the Bulls to be the best team in the East, but people should expect a better working relationship between Hoiberg and Butler — especially when you factor in Wade’s presence in the locker room as a mature adult who won’t be fazed by little issues that seemed to plague the Bulls last season.

But Butler and Hoiberg have improved their relationship on their own, according to the second-year Bulls coach.

“Jimmy and I have had a lot of conversations,” he said. “There’s a lot of things (that happened) last year. The big thing was the comment after the New York game…We got it handed to us and the comment was made.”

In what has been repeated ad nauseam, Butler called for the mild-mannered Hoiberg to “coach us harder” after a two-game stretch in December that saw the Bulls lose a four-overtime game against the Pistons followed by getting waxed by the Knicks the next night.

It put Hoiberg in an awkward position of sorts and Butler received criticism for calling out his coach publicly. No matter where people sat in terms of the comments, it made for scrutinized co-existence that will only be more scrutinized until the wins start piling up.

“We had a lot of conversations and I don’t see any issues with Jimmy Butler and I,” Hoiberg said. “The biggest thing as a staff is we have 15 guys that we gotta coach and hopefully put them in situations and utilize their skill sets and get the most out of them.”

NBA Playoffs' youth movement makes clock on long rebuilds tick quicker than ever

NBA Playoffs' youth movement makes clock on long rebuilds tick quicker than ever

New blood has injected life into the opening week of the NBA Playoffs as youthful newcomers have found the bright lights just to their fitting.

For those on the outside looking in, half-decade rebuilding plans appear tougher to sell to fan bases and ownership groups watching players on rookie scale deals outperform their contracts.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown weren’t expected to lead the Boston Celtics this season, but they’ve been thrust into leading roles after Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury on Opening Night and Kyrie Irving’s knee troubles shut him down weeks before the postseason.

But they’ve shown there’s no need to be treated with kid gloves, that redshirting is for the minor leagues. Tatum hasn’t gotten the extra publicity of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, but he’s not to be forgotten about in the playoff equation.

Brown had the benefit of being a rookie for the Celtics last season, and was more bystander than active participant.

But he’s still 21 years old, months younger than Mitchell and Simmons.

The two frontrunners for Rookie of the Year are certainly franchise players, and although they have major help on their respective rosters by way of veterans or fellow phenoms, one could argue the Utah Jazz and Philadelphia 76ers would have made the playoffs regardless.

The playoffs used to be a place reserved for the veterans, a higher plane of air that young lungs weren’t yet prepared for.

But Simmons is posting numbers that have statisticians scrambling for box scores from the tape-delay era for reference, while Mitchell is showing the teams who passed him up they should check their scouting and decision making.

And even though we could be in store for more of the same in the Finals if LeBron James’ Cavs meet Stephen Curry’s Warriors in June, the road to get there will be filled with so many new faces sure to be more than potholes in the years to come.

Recent NBA history can’t be written without the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder having significant ink. But each is on the verge of going fishing, trailing 3-1 after four games.

Instead, the 76ers are now darlings, the Celtics are chugging along without main cogs and the Jazz aren’t far away from catching the attention of casual fans to become must-see TV.

There’s a shift going on in the NBA, with slow-moving franchises hoping for a traditional clock on a rebuild taking the risk of being passed by those more determined, more opportunistic and unbothered by job security in the pursuit of winning now.

If you have something close to a unicorn, your house better be in order. Of the rising stars who have a level of establishment in the league’s hierarchy, only Kristaps Porzingis’ New York Knicks and Devin Booker’s Phoenix Suns are sitting on the outside of the playoff party. Porzingis is recovering from an ACL injury suffered midseason, otherwise the Knicks would have likely been in contention for a playoff spot.

The Suns, well, they’re a mess.

And it’s no coincidence both franchises are on the hunt for new coaches.

The talent pool in the NBA is so vast, its players seemingly so prepared for the transition to the professional game that the clock on franchises to wait on its players ticks louder than it ever has.

Factoring in booming salaries with young players poised to cash in on restricted free agency, franchises need answers on its young players—and they need them in the form of impact, in the form of wins.

Short of the Philadelphia 76ers’ sham and scam of the league’s rules by tanking for half a decade, it’s tough to envision a team duplicating the strategy with lottery reform on the horizon.

If done right, turnarounds can happen quicker than saving yourself a seat at the draft lottery four or five years in a row.

A correct mix of scouting, coach selection and veteran influence can put teams back in the playoff hunt quicker than before—as opposed to having similarly talented players making big money without having proven much.

For some fan bases, it represents hope.

For some front offices, you wonder if a shudder of fear is seeping into their buildings, knowing their clock is ticking.

NBA Buzz: Should the Bulls pursue Paul George in free agency?

paul_george_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: Should the Bulls pursue Paul George in free agency?

Anyone who watched the Oklahoma City Thunder implode in Game 4 of their first-round series against Utah Monday night probably had the same thought run through their mind. “Paul George is so out of there.”

Speculation about George signing a max free agent deal with his hometown Lakers has been running wild since the All-Star forward forced a trade out of Indiana last summer. And, who can forget the scene of George’s parents sitting in the front row at Staples Center cheering on their son as he played a strong game against the Lakers earlier this season?

But if we’ve learned anything through the years watching top level free agents make decisions on their future, it’s that it’s almost impossible to predict what factors will turn out to be most important.

Take the George free agency for example. Sure, he’s talked openly about his desire to play in southern California and his love of the Lakers and Kobe Bryant through the years. But what if LeBron James decides to take his talents to L.A. this summer? Will George be happy playing secnd fiddle to “the king” in his own hometown (if the Lakers can create cap space for a second max contract), or will he look for a better option to showcase his game and his brand?

That’s where the Bulls could come in.

John Paxson said in his season ending news conference it’s unlikely the Bulls would be major players in free agency this year, but he also said he never wanted to go through another season like the one his team had just endured, and that the front office will always be on the lookout for opportunities to add a star player to the mix.

With Zach LaVine’s cap hold and the salary slots included for the sixtth and 22nd picks in this year’s draft, the Bulls would have around $73 million in salary commitments for next season, leaving them just enough space to fit in the first season of a max contract offer for George. And even if they wind up just a little bit shy of a max slot, they could easily create more space by trading one of their back-up point guards or another reserve player.

Would George be receptive to a Bulls offer? Hard to say. The Lakers are obviously his first option and he might also consider the Clippers and 76ers. Doc Rivers would have to do some salary cap gymnastics to make a run at George, but Philadelphia will be in position to sign a major free agent outright, and the thought of George joining forces with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons would be scary for the other Eastern Conference contenders.

After years of toiling in Indianapolis, it’s hard to imagine George being interested in joining a rebuild in Chicago, but as I mentioned earlier, stranger things have happened in free agency.

The assumption in league circles is the Bulls will wait until 2019 to make their big move when players like Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving could be on the market, and might consider signing with the Bulls after watching another year of development from LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn.

But Paxson couldn’t have been more transparent in describing the mental pain he endured watching his team play for the best possible draft position during a 27-55 season, so he’s not going to pass up on a chance to add a franchise player if one suddenly becomes available this summer.

Paul George signing with the Bulls is an extreme long shot, but it’s not totally impossible.

AROUND THE ASSOCIATION

The biggest surprise in round one of the playoffs has to be the Pelicans’ 4-0 sweep of Portland. After losing DeMarcus Cousins to a season-ending injury, not many people expected New Orleans to even make the playoffs, much less win a series.

But Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry designed a new offensive system, utilizing a three-guard offense of Jrue Holiday and former Bulls Rajon Rondo and E’Twaun Moore to get the ball to superstar big man Anthony Davis, with another ex-Bull, Niko Mirotic providing floor spacing as a third scoring option.

Add to that the almost annual transformation of Rondo into an elite playoff performer, and all of a sudden the Pelicans are dangerous. Granted, they’ll probably come up short in the next round against Golden State, but casual basketball fans are finally getting a chance to see just how good Davis is playing on a national stage. He’s a top 5 talent, who has consistently pledged his loyalty to the organization that originally drafted him.

Assuming the Pelicans re-sign Cousins this summer, it will be interesting to find out what the ceiling might be for this team that seemed to be treading water just a few short months ago.

——————

On the other side of that series, losing four straight playoff games could signal major changes ahead for Portland. The backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum is one of the league’s best, but the Blazers are capped out and have to make a decision on signing restricted free agent center Jusuf Nurkic.

Portland was one of the biggest offenders in the Wild West free agent chase in 2016 after the new tv contracts ushered in a $20 million spike in the salary cap. The Blazers signed Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe and Myers Leonard to ridiculously inflated contracts and then overpaid free agent forward Mo Harkless the following summer.

General Manager Neil Olshey was able to unload Crabbe’s contract in a deal with Brooklyn, but the Blazers are already over next year’s projected salary cap with the contracts already on the books, making it extremely difficult to improve the team’s frontcourt.

So, would Portland consider trading McCollum or Lillard for a package of young players and picks? Lillard just had his best season and is a fixture in Portland, so it’s unlikely he would be moved. But if Olshey decides the current roster has maxed out, he might explore trading McCollum to bring in the reinforcements the Blazers need to contend in the brutally tough West.

——————

Similarly, what’s next for Tom Thibodeau and the “Timber-Bulls” after they get eliminated by top seeded Houston in round one?

It’s been fun watching Derrick Rose re-kindle memories of his MVP past with his end to end attacks and twisting finishes at the rim. Rose has averaged around 15 points off the bench in the series, probably earning an invitation back to be a rotation player for Minnesota next season.

But what about the uneasy alliance between Jimmy Butler and the TWolves young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins? Butler has one guaranteed season left on his contract, but in an interview with the Sun-Times' Joe Cowley, Butler admitted it’s been tough watching players who don’t share his passion for winning and constantly working to improve their games. Don’t be surprised if Jimmy isn’t already planning his exit strategy with an eye towards Los Angeles.

Butler also said in the Cowley article he has a lot of love for the Reinsdorf family and wouldn’t rule out finishing his career in a Bulls uniform. Now that sounds like an even bigger long shot than my Paul George idea, but after all this is the NBA!

Just visualize Kevin Garnett screaming in his on court interview after the Celtics won the NBA title in 2008. “Anything’s possible!”