The team Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg inherited last season is vastly different than the one he’ll start training camp preparation for next week, along with the external expectations looking more like a question mark than one of conference contention.
Still, though, he couldn’t contain his excitement as he made a trip to his native Iowa and sat down with CSNChicago.com for an interview.
He’s still dealing with being the man who replaced Tom Thibodeau as coach but in his second season, he believes he’s much more comfortable in his position and his adjustment to the scrutiny that comes with being in a large media market.
And with a roster makeover that featured Derrick Rose get traded to New York along with Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol leaving via free agency, perhaps he gets a second chance at a first impression after an up and down season that saw the Bulls miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
“We did have a lot of injuries but there’s no excuse for me,” Hoiberg said. “I’ve got to get them playing more consistent basketball. “
“We’ve got to be more consistent on a nightly basis and that’s on me.”
The Bulls added veterans and former champions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in free agency, a surprise to many around the NBA as the Bulls opted for talent and experience as opposed to natural basketball fit — an awkward setup on paper that will fall at Hoiberg’s feet when camp begins next month.
“The biggest thing is we have multiple playmakers now, we have guys who can get in and break down the defense,” Hoiberg said. “That’s the most important thing to have on an NBA roster is multiple ballhandlers, multiple playmakers. Bigs who are gonna set screens and put pressure on the rim.”
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Hoiberg parroted what the Bulls front office has been saying since Rondo and Wade have been brought aboard, highlighting the fact they made free agency additions without sacrificing some of the youth on the roster.
“Rondo is a point guard who I think will thrive in the system we like to run and then to get Dwyane, we didn’t have to give up any of the young pieces in the process,” Hoiberg said. “We’re able to stay competitive with players with championship experience. To pair those two guys with Jimmy Butler, it’ll be a dynamic and exciting backcourt.”
Figuring out how to handle three ball dominant perimeter players, including one in Wade where his minutes and workload will be monitored from Day One, will be among his biggest challenges he and the trio faces.
None are great perimeter shooters and Hoiberg has made no secret of wanting to play a fast pace offense where 3-pointers can fly early and often.
“It’s gonna take sacrifice,” Hoiberg said. “When you have guys who can put up big numbers every night, there’s gonna be sacrifice involved and guys will have to buy into their roles. It may not be your night every time you take the floor. But if everybody buys in, we have a chance to do a lot of good things this year.”
He worked Rondo out last week, helping him with a hitch in his shot that he hopes will lead to improved outside shooting (36 percent last season). With Wade, the two exchanged texts about what Hoiberg foresees as an evolving vision of what the offense could look like early.
“Those guys will be in, in September to help the young guys along and start developing that important chemistry which is the most important thing for our group next year,” he said. “You have two guys who’ll be good in that department. You have Jimmy, a young player, young superstar who’s grown into that role. It’s gonna be good and hopefully it’ll click early.”
With “hopefully” being the key word, he admits there isn’t an expectation for things to look smoothly from the onset, as figuring out ways to maximize the shooting while likely having two of the three perimeter players on the floor and getting enough defense and rebounding at the same time.
“We’ll have to have the right rotations out there,” Hoiberg said. “It probably won’t be the first week where we’re clicking and everything is determined.”
He made the comparison in terms of the circumstances to perhaps the best team he played on, the 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves. Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell were added to a team that couldn’t escape the first round and they went to the Western Conference Finals on the back of MVP Kevin Garnett.
“We had three strong personalities, three very good players,” Hoiberg said. “It took a while but once it got going we were off and running and had the best record in the West.”
In context, no one can expect the Bulls to be the best team in the East, but people should expect a better working relationship between Hoiberg and Butler — especially when you factor in Wade’s presence in the locker room as a mature adult who won’t be fazed by little issues that seemed to plague the Bulls last season.
But Butler and Hoiberg have improved their relationship on their own, according to the second-year Bulls coach.
“Jimmy and I have had a lot of conversations,” he said. “There’s a lot of things (that happened) last year. The big thing was the comment after the New York game…We got it handed to us and the comment was made.”
In what has been repeated ad nauseam, Butler called for the mild-mannered Hoiberg to “coach us harder” after a two-game stretch in December that saw the Bulls lose a four-overtime game against the Pistons followed by getting waxed by the Knicks the next night.
It put Hoiberg in an awkward position of sorts and Butler received criticism for calling out his coach publicly. No matter where people sat in terms of the comments, it made for scrutinized co-existence that will only be more scrutinized until the wins start piling up.
“We had a lot of conversations and I don’t see any issues with Jimmy Butler and I,” Hoiberg said. “The biggest thing as a staff is we have 15 guys that we gotta coach and hopefully put them in situations and utilize their skill sets and get the most out of them.”