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.”

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

Draft night highlighted the unfulfilling feeling of this past Bulls season

The door has officially been closed on the 2017-18 season for the Chicago Bulls, and the word that most comes to mind is “unfulfilling.”

Or maybe even “indistinguishable.”

Draft night was supposed to be a culmination of a painful seven-month stretch that only had occasional yet costly moments of light.

Death lineup? Meet Death March. And Death April, while we’re at it.

The Bulls brass sold everyone on a full rebuild after trading Jimmy Butler one year ago, with an unspoken promise that this draft would bear franchise-changing fruit—hence the general feeling of angst or even indifference with the solid selection of Wendell Carter Jr. and their not-so-secret affection of Chandler Hutchison.

It was why fans believe the Bulls got cold feet about trading to move up, and why they believe the Bulls weren’t being pragmatic in staying away from Michael Porter Jr.

Porter, some believe, has star written all over him given his prep ranking this time last year and the Bulls were in position to speed up this process without having to go into a painful Process.

They were desperate for a star, believing the tankathon had produced so much suffering it had to be something on the back end.

There was the fight (or the punch).

The aftermath.

The miserable 3-20 start.

The 14-7 streak that produced the audacity of hope.

The reality that 14-7 was damaging enough to the lottery chances that a 3-11 finish couldn’t rectify.

And finally, the coin flip that cost them five spots in the lottery one month ago.

So that empty feeling has less to do with Carter and Hutchison, who’ve done nothing to earn the “blah” reaction from the fan base and some media. It has everything to do with the unanswered questions over the last 82 games and lack of clarity over the three hauls from draft night last year.

It’s not that Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn underperformed individually last season, but the lack of cohesiveness due to injuries and circumstances has led to the varying thoughts.

LaVine is approaching restricted free agency and by all accounts is taking his continuing rehab in Washington very seriously.  Markkanen has added plenty of muscle since the offseason began, appearing as if he can play Michael B. Jordan’s in-ring foil in the next installation of “Creed” as Ivan Drago’s long lost son.

And despite the report about Dunn not working as hard on the floor this offseason, that would be more of a concern if this were late August, not June.

The last time they were seen together on the floor, they looked no closer to a pecking order than the day they arrived.

What we know is that they’re productive NBA players, capable of putting an individual tattoo on a game at a moment’s notice, skillful enough to take your breath away.

And for whatever reason, the expectations changed once the three displayed they could be dynamic on their own—a star needed to be anointed and groomed to go with the star they believed was coming their way after the season.

Management is fully behind Markkanen, but Paxson’s strong words about LaVine at the season-ending news conference illustrated how much it feels LaVine has to prove next season.

With his restricted free agency status looming, the Bulls’ initial offer will show how much they value him until and if he gets a better deal on the market.

And the fact the Bulls weren’t afraid to draft Trae Young while having a healthy debate about Collin Sexton on draft night has to show they have at least some skepticism about the future at point guard.

But stars—developing stars, acquired stars, drafted stars—have to do it on their own. No amount of promotion or prodding from management will validate their faith, if that’s the route the Bulls choose to go.

This has to be a meritocracy or it won’t work and, honestly, it’s time for a reality check.

All the worry about the Bulls getting back to title contention sooner rather than later seems like folks getting ahead of themselves.

The front office has taken its share of shots from media and fans, so some questioning is earned but they’re right about one thing. Rebuilds aren’t completed in a day or 12 months.

Expecting some magic potion to arrive in the form of a top draft pick isn’t going to cure what ills this roster, and it doesn’t seem likely all the cap space will result in a free agent choosing the Bulls over the usual suspects.

However, methodical building can look like complacency if not done with a sense of urgency.

And with urgency in mind, this past season was unsatisfying to say the least—heading into the next phase with two more young pieces to develop while the first three are still in the evaluation stage.

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Loyola's March Madness hero Donte Ingram will play with Bulls' Summer League team

Donte Ingram's 2018 keeps getting better and better.

The March Madness hero, who buried a game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of Loyola's win over Miami, will play on the Bulls' Summer League team.

Ingram, a Simeon Academy graduate, had himself an incredible senior season with the Ramblers, who advanced all the way to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed.

In five NCAA Tournament games Ingram averaged 7.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.6 assists for the Ramblers. He also had 18 points in the MVC Conference Championship Game to secure the Ramblers' March Madness berth.

He'll join first-round draft picks Wendell Carter Jr. and Chandler Hutchison on the Las Vegas Summer League team, which will begin play early next month.