Hoiberg's personal touch will bring smiles back to Bulls


Hoiberg's personal touch will bring smiles back to Bulls

It’s interesting to see recent history repeat itself when it comes to Bulls coaching hires. Back in 1998 during the Bulls championship run, reports surfaced about Jerry Krause’s fascination with the NBA potential of Iowa State head coach Tim Floyd. And, sure enough, Floyd was hired the following season to preside over Krause’s failed attempt to rebuild the dynasty Bulls on the fly.

Fast forward to this season, and all the reports of the Bulls potential interest in Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg if the damaged relationship with Tom Thibodeau eventually led to a break-up. Tuesday, Hoiberg was introduced as the 19th head coach in Bulls franchise history after an extremely brief search with Hoiberg seemingly the only candidate. One thing we can say for sure, Hoiberg is a lot better prepared for his first experience on an NBA bench than Floyd.

[MORE BULLS: Who is Fred Hoiberg? A timeline of The Mayor's career]

After covering Hoiberg as a player during his Bulls stint from 1999 to 2003, I can tell you he is an extremely bright, hard-working person who truly enjoyed competing on the highest level and welcomed his interactions with the media. During his introductory news conference, Hoiberg told the story of wanting to make a comeback as an NBA player during his time as a Minnesota Timberwolves executive, even after having a pace-maker implanted following heart surgery. Of course, he knew that would be impossible, but he missed the competition that much.

Hoiberg joked about being a bench player with the Indiana Pacers in the late 90’s, watching his teams lose some classic battles to the Michael Jordan-led Bulls. And, he even fondly remembered his days on those historically bad Bulls’ teams under Floyd and Bill Cartwright. Hoiberg was an excellent three-point shooter, leading the NBA in 2004-05 by knocking down 48 percent of his attempts beyond the arc. All in all, he played 10 seasons before his heart condition forced an early retirement, making his mark as a competitor, shooter and teammate.

[MORE BULLS: Bulls announce Fred Hoiberg as new head coach]

Spending four seasons in the Timberwolves front office gave Hoiberg the chance to appreciate the long hours and hard work it takes to construct an NBA roster, but he always felt that at some point he wanted to get back to the front lines as part of a coaching staff. When Iowa State’s Greg McDermott (the father of Bulls forward Doug McDermott), decided to accept a job offer at Creighton, Hoiberg was given the opportunity to coach his alma mater. Over his five seasons on the Cyclones’ bench, Hoiberg produced some of the NCAA’s most efficient offensive teams, taking Iowa State to the big dance four times.

Now, Hoiberg brings that fast paced offense to the NBA level in Chicago. He’ll ask Derrick Rose and the other Bulls guards to push the pace at every opportunity, looking for early offense and open three-point shots. Hoiberg says he will use analytic research to help devise the best way to attack opposing defenses and get the most out of the talent on the Bulls' roster.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Today’s NBA has become a shooter’s league with all four of the Conference Finalists in this year’s playoffs ranking among the Top 5 in three-point shooting. The Bulls have some underused players on the bench in McDermott and Tony Snell, and to a lesser extent, Nikola Mirotic, who should get consistent playing time in Hoiberg’s offensive system.

Will that be enough to carry the Bulls past LeBron James and the Cavs in next year’s playoffs? Only time will tell. But in hiring a trusted friend like Hoiberg, Gar Forman pretty much ensured harmony between the front office and coaching staff. And, for all the players who chafed under Thibodeau’s relentless, demanding approach in recent years, Hoiberg’s arrival should bring some much needed smiles to the Advocate Center.

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.

Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future


Bulls Talk Podcast: Projecting the Bulls’ future

In the latest edition of the Bulls Talk Podcast, Mark Schanowski, Will Perdue and Kendall Gill recap the Bulls’ 116-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, look at the continued growth of Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, and discuss if Bobby Portis is part of the Bulls’ long term future.

They also check in on LeBron James and the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers, discuss whether or not the Golden State Warriors can make another title run and the latest on the status of San Antonio Spurs guard Kawhi Leonard. The guys also discuss how Oklahoma guard Trae Young could look in a Bulls uniform if he’s available for them in the draft.

Listen to the full episode at this link (iOS users can go here) or in the embedded player below. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts.