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.
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.”
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.”
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.”