Bulls: Fred Hoiberg calls for accountability during recent slide


Bulls: Fred Hoiberg calls for accountability during recent slide

It’s happened more than a few times this season, instances where adversity hits the Bulls and they fold, rather than fighting through it, leading to disappointing losses and cryptic comments thereafter.

Wednesday’s eye-opening, eye-popping loss to the Golden State Warriors prompted the players to verbalize the usual rhetoric about not communicating, and perhaps it made Fred Hoiberg do a little soul searching as well in the aftermath.

Getting beat by 31 points on national TV tends to bring about that kind of action, and Hoiberg said he’s no longer letting the players off the hook, believing the players should take more ownership of what’s going on.

“It starts with me. There’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I need to do a much better job of when the communication isn’t there of holding the guys more accountable with that.”

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Players and coaches alike all have said the practices are spirited and productive, but the lethargic efforts have been noticeable, particularly on the defensive end. So to hear Hoiberg preach about accountability is a change in philosophy.

“I’ve done a poor job of bailing them out sometimes by talking too much in practice or having an assistant coach talk too much,” he said. “We almost have to be silent. And it has to come from the players. Because it’s pretty glaring when we’re not doing it and the gym is silent from the coaches.”

That silence on the floor has led to some extended runs for opponents, and just situations in general that a usually-resilient bunch would bounce back from. Now, they seem to cower in the corner.

“We need to do a better job of battling through adversity. Tough times are going to hit you pretty much every time you step on the floor,” Hoiberg said. “We didn’t get off to a great start against Detroit. We got down double figures. We bounced back and had a great last three quarters. You hope that carries over to the next one. We got off to a solid start last night. We had a lead in the first quarter with under six minutes to go. And then they jumped on us. And we didn’t respond well.”

Nikola Mirotic is one of the players in need of response, one of four Hoiberg likely described as having a new role for the first time in his career. After a strong start to January, his production has gone from a slump to something deeper in the last four.

His totals are just as disturbing as Wednesday’s 31-point beatdown to Golden State: 19 points and 14 rebounds on five of 28 shooting (17 percent) and two of 12 from 3-point range (17 percent).

For someone who came into the season depended on as a valuable cog, that’s not the kind of production the Bulls can win with.

“It’s true that I started off a little bit better in 2016, especially for the first week,” Mirotic said. “I was playing with a little more confidence, you know? Playing the three, playing the four, too, but again I’m struggling a little bit now. I’m not shooting the ball well. I’m not feeling the same confidence like I was feeling before, but it could happen.”

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Whether starting or coming off the bench, the lack of confidence has been startling. The hesitation, not knowing where to be on the floor on either end, is all on full display and it looks like he’s not shaking himself from it anytime soon.

“I’m playing with more confidence at the four because that’s my natural position that I’ve been playing all of my life, but believe me it was a good experience for me playing the three,” Mirotic said. “I think after a couple of weeks I adjusted a little bit. So now I’m playing just the four again, so whatever coach needs me to play.”

The man who dazzled last March when the Bulls were without Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler is a shell.

“I was playing with a lot of confidence that month,” he said. “Playing a lot of minutes. Having a great feeling you know. I’ve been shooting a lot from three, playing in the low-post, different game. Today, I’m not scoring easy baskets. I’m not running like before. I’m not making those open threes. I’m not doing things in the low post. But if I can do it last year in March, I can do it this year, too. It’s a little bit confidence, a little bit more working out, and I think it will come soon.”

'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls


'Underdog' Tyler Ulis will fit in just fine with these Bulls

It's been a whirlwind of a summer for point guard Tyler Ulis, but he finally feels like he's found a home. Literally.

The 5-foot-9 point guard was cut by the Suns in late June, latched on with a training camp invite by the Warriors and was subsequently waived on Friday. It was then that Ulis, working out in California, received a call from his agent. He had been claimed on waivers by the Chicago Bulls. His hometown Bulls.

"I grew up watching (the Bulls)," he said after his first practice on Tuesday. "Growing up in this city, you always want to be a Bull and you’re always willing and hoping that you’ll be here one day...I'm home now. It's a lot of fun and I'm looking forward to it."

Ulis is back in Chicago for the first time since he was breaking records for Marian Catholic High School. Ulis became a five-star recruit for the Spartans and in 2014 signed on as the next point guard in the long line of successful floor generals under John Calipari and Kentucky.

Ulis backed up the Harrison twins, Andrew and Aaron, as a freshman but saw his role increase as a sophomore. He blossomed, earning Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the SEC. Only Anthony Davis had ever earned both honors in a single season.

He declared for the 2016 NBA Draft with hopes of becoming a first-round pick. But unlike the Calipari point guards before him, Ulis slipped all the way down to the second round before the Phoenix Suns scooped him up with the 34th pick.

"Honestly I really did think (the Bulls) were going to draft me," Ulis said on Tuesday when recalling the 2016 NBA Draft. The Bulls took Denzel Valentine with the 14th pick. "But I'm here now so that's all that matters."

In 132 games, Ulis averaged 7.6 points and 4.1 assists in 21.1 minutes. He started 58 of those games, and while his shooting left plenty to be desired he handled the offense well and brought that same pesky defense he showed off at Kentucky. It wasn't enough, even for the guard-deprived Suns. They released Ulis before free agency this summer - which ruffled the feathers of franchise guard Devin Booker - in a rather unexpected move.

"My Mom always taught me (to) never expect anything," Ulis said of his release from the Suns. "When you're on a losing team like that anything can happen. I feel like I showed I could play at this level but they went a different way."

The Suns' loss - they may resort to starting 38-year-old Jamal Crawford at point guard this year - could be the Bulls' gain. Expectations should be harnessed for Ulis, especially with him joining the roster this late in the preseason, but the Bulls, like Phoenix, have question marks at the point.

Kris Dunn is entrenched as the starter, but Cameron Payne struggled mightily in the preseason and Ryan Arcidiacono doesn't project as a contributor. That leaves an opening for Ulis to potentially fill on the second unit, and apparently he's making a statement early in practice.

"Tyler had a real good practice," Fred Hoiberg said. "I think I think he changes the pace when he’s out there on the floor. He picks up full-court, he gets up underneath you. He can make a shot. He’s got good vision and can make a play with the ball in his hand. So I was very impressed with his first workout."

Ulis is working on a 45-day two-way contract, so it's unknown how much he'll contribute. He could be shuttled back and forth between Chicago and the Windy City Bulls, but there's certainly an opportunity for him to stick. He'll be playing catch-up and learning on the go, but doing so in his hometown wth friends and family around him for support will work to his advantage.

"Being a smaller guard growing up in a big man’s sport, you get looked over. So I’m the underdog," he said. "And I feel like this team is an underdog, so we should all be excited to get the season started and prove people wrong."

Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done


Bulls, Bobby Portis value each other greatly despite no deal getting done

Monday's deadline came and went with expected results: Bobby Portis and the Bulls being unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension.

Some 19 hours later all parties involved said the right things, that they value one another and hope to be working together long-term.

But all that will be shelved until July 1, when Portis enters restricted free agency at this coming season's end. The two sides found themselves in position to wait out on an extension.

For Portis, he's improved his game each of his first three seasons in the league posted per-36 numbers on par with some of the game's best big men. Expected to start while Lauri Markkanen recovers from a sprained elbow - and then act as the team's Sixth Man after that - Portis is in line to post career numbers once again.

For the Bulls, nearly all their front office decisions the past three seasons have been with an eye toward the 2019 offseason and having as much cap space as possible. Waiting on a Portis contract allows them to see if any of the top free agents in the class are interested in Chicago, while also having the ability to match any deal Portis gets on the open market.

It's similar to how the Bulls played out the rookie scale contracts of both Jimmy Butler and Zach LaVine.

John Paxson spoke during Tuesday's practice at the Advocate Center and reiterated how much the Bulls value Portis and the work he's put in since they drafted him 22nd overall in 2015.

Portis also spoke with reporters after practice. And what would normally be considered posturing from any other player, Portis' blue-collar mentality was present in his comments.

"I couldn’t see myself in no other jersey. Obviously, I got Bulls DNA," he said. "Me and the city have a love connection somewhere. At the same time, I just enjoy playing for the Bulls.

"I play this game because I love it. Obviously, you want to make as much money as possible to help your family. But I started playing basketball because it’s fun to me and I loved it. I still have that same passion, that same heart every night I go out there."

Still, the opportunity will be there for Portis to make himself significant money in the coming six months. After averaging a modest 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds in Year 3, Portis will be called upon to shoulder a scoring load in the absence of Markkanen. And with Jabari Parker's Bulls career off to a shaky start, Portis will be the go-to guy on the second unit once Markkanen is back in the lineup.

"Bobby is a guy that is very confident in himself. He’s confident in his ability. That’s what we love about him," Fred Hoiberg said. "And like I said, he’s going to go out there and play the same way every time he steps on the floor, whether it’s practice, whether it’s a pick-up game in the summer or once we get started on Thursday. He’s a warrior, and he’s just going to go out there and play the right way with great effort.’’

The Bulls will need that with the start of the regular season just two days away. They open on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers, a team that went 30-11 at home last season.

Portis will play a significant role in slowing down one of the NBA's best frontcourts. Whether or not this is his last season doing so in Chicago, he knows what the Bulls think of him and won't let the impending negotiations distract him.

"I know how much I’m valued. They tell me a lot. Give it all I got. Kind of the leader of the bunch. Blue-collar worker," he said. "Everybody respects me because I come in every day with a chip on my shoulder, try to push my guys to get better each day. That makes me go."