Fred Hoiberg's synergy with Bulls front office on full display


Fred Hoiberg's synergy with Bulls front office on full display

The dawn of a new era was on full display at the Advocate Center, as new Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg sat patiently, and confidently, alongside the man who hired him for 48 minutes upon his introduction.

It was hard to imagine Bulls general manager Gar Forman and Hoiberg’s predecessor, Tom Thibodeau, sharing space on a dais for more than 48 seconds at a time, let alone enough time for four quarters.

“In Fred, we feel strongly that we’ve got a guy with a skill package of a winning coach, a guy who is a natural leader and a great, great communicator,” Forman said. “He’s a talented, in-demand coach that has attracted significant interest throughout the league and was atop our list as we began this process.”

Nobody believed anyone else was on the list, that Hoiberg was “The List,” and the Bulls were on a similarly short list of teams Hoiberg would leave Ames, Iowa, for.

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“When this opportunity presented itself, I kind of said at that time, 'If a situation comes about where you can compete for a championship ... a lot of coaches don’t walk into this,'” Hoiberg said. “To come here, again with an organization I’m familiar with, was I guess the overriding factor.”

If Vinny Del Negro got the Bulls from irrelevancy (first quarter), followed by Thibodeau establishing a strong foundation by taking them to the doorstep of the elite (second and third), Hoiberg is tasked with getting them over the hump in the “fourth quarter” to an NBA title — with far less friction of the last two.

Forman was on the Iowa State staff during Hoiberg’s college playing days, and he has plenty of familiarity with the Bulls organization, having played in Chicago from 1999 to 2003.

That synergy made it an easy choice for the Bulls, considering all the drama they had with Thibodeau.

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All Hoiberg is charged with doing is upgrading a stagnant offense, ensuring the harmony that flowed on Day 1 continues that way, all the while keeping the lines of communication open with his front office.

“I’m very confident in my relationship with these guys,” Hoiberg said. “Like Gar said, I’ve known him for a long time. John (Paxson) was doing radio when I was playing here the first time. I really got to know him very well, as well, so yeah, I’m very comfortable with my relationship and I’m excited about this moving forward.”

Oh yeah, and bettering a .647 winning percentage — the fourth-best in the NBA in the last four years. The other three franchises have made it to the NBA Finals at least once.

“I had a rival GM call me last night first of all to congratulate us on getting Fred to come as our head coach,” Forman said. “It’s a guy who tried to hire Fred in the last year or two. Quite simply, what he said to me is, 'You’re getting a special coach ,and you’re getting a special person.' He couldn’t have said it any better. We know we’re getting a special coach and person.”

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Hoiberg ran down the list of Bulls’ players — including Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, who were in attendance — running down mini scouting reports and the like for a roster he said he didn’t have much knowledge of until Forman and Paxson came in armed with owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s millions a few days ago.

Of course, he addressed the two main guys who couldn’t put it together good enough against the Cavaliers in the second round two weeks ago: Derrick Rose and restricted-free-agent-to-be Jimmy Butler.

“Derrick's obviously a guy who's at his best when he's playing downhill,” Hoiberg said. “If we can get the wings out running, you get that first big running to the rim, and you give Derrick space on the fast break, that's going to create a lot of opportunities.”

As for Butler: “I'm excited about Jimmy, obviously getting out and running on the wings. Jimmy's an attack player. If you can get him the ball on the run, on the move, and attacking the basket with pace, I think it's an ideal system for him.”

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And clearly, he, the front office and ownership believe he’s the ideal fit for a team that needs a bit of a facelift before taking the next step.

“I wouldn’t take this job if I wasn’t confident that we can continue to play at a championship level,” Hoiberg said.

The right words were said, and hopefully for his sake 12 months from now, there will be less talking and more playing — in June.

Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury


Jimmy Butler leaves game unable to put any pressure on right leg after apparent non-contact injury

The NBA may have lost another top superstar due to injury.

On Friday, Jimmy Butler appeared to have suffered a non-contact injury to his right knee. He left the game against the Houston Rockets unable to put any pressure on his right leg and needed assistance getting back to the locker room. 

Here's a video of the incident:

Coach Tom Thibodeau said that Butler will have an MRI when the team returns to Minnesota on Saturday.

Butler drew a lot of headlines last weekend after not playing in the NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

Entering Friday, Butler led the league with 37.3 minutes played per game.

The Bulls also take on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday night.

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

It's Bobby's World in Bulls' lottery-improving loss to 76ers

The final 25 games was supposed to be all about the development of the Bulls’ recent acquisitions and securing a record worthy of one of the last three envelopes at the NBA Draft Lottery.

Only Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn seemed to matter, with Cameron Payne and Cristiano Felicio being the perfect window dressing for development as opposed to just saying a team is tanking.

But Bobby Portis is making a case that he isn’t to be forgotten in the big picture, that his worth is more than just being a punchline to the jokes that followed his incident with Nikola Mirotic.

The only thing Portis didn’t do right in the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers was missing a point blank shot that would’ve given the Bulls an improbable and unwanted win, and it would’ve given him 40 points.

Instead he had to settle for a career-high 38 as Joel Embiid was bearing down on Portis when he caught a diagonal pass from Dunn with 1.1 seconds left, having the shorter T.J. McConnell on him and taking a power dribble to gather himself.

“If I could go back I would’ve just went up the first time off the glass like I always do,” Portis said. “We just have to try to close out games better.”

Embiid showed he’s worth all the trouble with his health problems, scoring 30 with 13 rebounds and five rebounds while Ben Simmons put up 32 with 11 assists and seven rebounds as the 76ers improved to 31-25, good enough for seventh place in the East.

In a game that featured remarkable resolve from a purposely undermanned Bulls team as they sat Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday, they put themselves in position to win after trailing by 18 early. After leading by five courtesy of a LaVine walk-down triple with 1:02 left, they made a couple critical errors that allowed the 76ers to steal a game the Bulls won’t mind them taking at the end of 82.

Denzel Valentine’s inbounds pass with 5.9 seconds left was intended for LaVine, but Embiid stepped in front for a steal as they were in position to make it a free-throw game the rest of the way.

Similar to the Bulls’ unlikely win over the Orlando Magic before the All-Star break, they returned the favor as 76ers rookie Ben Simmons made free throws after the steal to give the visitors a one-point lead, setting the stage for the final play.

If learning lessons is what the last 100 quarters of basketball is supposed to be about, the Bulls got a big-time lesson in a game that ultimately means nothing.

“These are learning opportunities for our team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I couldn’t be happier, the way we went out and competed. We dug ourselves an 18-point hold and (fought) our way back—have complete control of the game.”

Control was wrestled from the 76ers by Portis’ able and quick hands. Taking more of a scoring posture since Mirotic’s departure, Portis has never been shy about being aggressive.

But now he’s being encouraged in that department, playing a big part in the Bulls’ tying their franchise record of 18 triples with six of his own, scoring 21 in the first half and not backing down one step from the massive Embiid.

“I kind of struggled from (three) in the last six, seven games,” said Portis, who didn’t take much time off during the All-Star break. “I think I’ve shown this entire year, trying to stay consistent and be a spark off the bench.”

Counting the last two games before the break, Portis has been on the best scoring binge of his career—cementing his place in the league when just a few months ago, many were questioning if the Bulls should’ve actually picked up his player option following the Mirotic incident.

His 25.0 points in the last three, along with scoring in double figures for seven straight games are career-bests. With every flex, every energetic plea to the crowd and resourceful score underneath the rim, Portis is becoming a player the Bulls can’t afford to plan without.

The stage was set for a Portis breakout shortly after the incident, when he was serving his suspension to start the season. When the Bulls traveled to Miami and Orlando, he flew on his own to Orlando for dinner with his mentor, former NBA veteran and Magic assistant coach Corliss Williamson.

Williamson, a player who was not to be trifled with during his career, told Portis essentially, “this too shall pass”.

“Just play your game,” Williamson told NBCSportsChicago.com recently. “Don’t put any pressure on yourself about what’s gonna happen after this year. What’s got him here is hard work, how hard he plays in the game. He continues to do that, he’ll be successful.”

Portis recalled the dinner where he was finally able to confide and unleash after weeks of frustration. Calling Williamson a father figure dating back to their Arkansas roots, where Portis played on Williamson’s AAU teams in middle school, Portis put his trust in him and came back reinvigorated.

“We talked for hours about the whole situation,” Portis told NBCSportsChicago.com “He told me when I come back to come 10 times harder. When people play this game and play the right way, they forget about the other stuff. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Scoring 38 tends to remake a narrative.

“Bobby just continues to improve,” Hoiberg said. “He’s a confident kid that goes out and plays with a ton of swagger and toughness. You need that, to go out and play with that type of effort. He’s tenacious on the glass. He’s getting the crowd into the game.”

When speaking of Portis, Hoiberg’s face went from flush to beaming, knowing how far Portis has come in his three years—being a player who wouldn’t take 3-pointers with confidence to now unleashing them whenever a defender’s feet shows the slightest hint of leaning back.

No hesitation.

“Regardless if I’m making shots, I try to leave it all out on the floor,” Portis said. “It felt good making shots, being able to help the team. I wanted the win tonight.”

Portis helped make up for the Bulls not getting their usual production from Dunn, who struggled guarding the bigger Simmons and Lauri Markkanen, who missed all five of his 3-pointers and made just one field goal in 32 minutes.

“You can put he and Lauri together,” Hoiberg said. “It gives you two guys that can stretch the floor and space it, two guys that can rebound, two that can put it on the floor. It’s exciting to think about when Kris gets his rhythm back.”

And now, Williamson’s words have proven to be prophetic for his pupil, because if the Bulls aren’t seeing Portis as a key part of their future, there’s about 25 other teams who’ll be lining up for his services this summer.

“I told him don’t even worry about it,” Williamson said. “Let your game speak for itself. People who really know you, know what type of person you are. You start producing people will forget about it and love you for what you do on the court.”

His game is talking, even if the Bulls’ loss was one they’d rather have taken in silence.