Fred Hoiberg's synergy with Bulls front office on full display


Fred Hoiberg's synergy with Bulls front office on full display

The dawn of a new era was on full display at the Advocate Center, as new Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg sat patiently, and confidently, alongside the man who hired him for 48 minutes upon his introduction.

It was hard to imagine Bulls general manager Gar Forman and Hoiberg’s predecessor, Tom Thibodeau, sharing space on a dais for more than 48 seconds at a time, let alone enough time for four quarters.

“In Fred, we feel strongly that we’ve got a guy with a skill package of a winning coach, a guy who is a natural leader and a great, great communicator,” Forman said. “He’s a talented, in-demand coach that has attracted significant interest throughout the league and was atop our list as we began this process.”

Nobody believed anyone else was on the list, that Hoiberg was “The List,” and the Bulls were on a similarly short list of teams Hoiberg would leave Ames, Iowa, for.

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“When this opportunity presented itself, I kind of said at that time, 'If a situation comes about where you can compete for a championship ... a lot of coaches don’t walk into this,'” Hoiberg said. “To come here, again with an organization I’m familiar with, was I guess the overriding factor.”

If Vinny Del Negro got the Bulls from irrelevancy (first quarter), followed by Thibodeau establishing a strong foundation by taking them to the doorstep of the elite (second and third), Hoiberg is tasked with getting them over the hump in the “fourth quarter” to an NBA title — with far less friction of the last two.

Forman was on the Iowa State staff during Hoiberg’s college playing days, and he has plenty of familiarity with the Bulls organization, having played in Chicago from 1999 to 2003.

That synergy made it an easy choice for the Bulls, considering all the drama they had with Thibodeau.

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All Hoiberg is charged with doing is upgrading a stagnant offense, ensuring the harmony that flowed on Day 1 continues that way, all the while keeping the lines of communication open with his front office.

“I’m very confident in my relationship with these guys,” Hoiberg said. “Like Gar said, I’ve known him for a long time. John (Paxson) was doing radio when I was playing here the first time. I really got to know him very well, as well, so yeah, I’m very comfortable with my relationship and I’m excited about this moving forward.”

Oh yeah, and bettering a .647 winning percentage — the fourth-best in the NBA in the last four years. The other three franchises have made it to the NBA Finals at least once.

“I had a rival GM call me last night first of all to congratulate us on getting Fred to come as our head coach,” Forman said. “It’s a guy who tried to hire Fred in the last year or two. Quite simply, what he said to me is, 'You’re getting a special coach ,and you’re getting a special person.' He couldn’t have said it any better. We know we’re getting a special coach and person.”

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Hoiberg ran down the list of Bulls’ players — including Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, who were in attendance — running down mini scouting reports and the like for a roster he said he didn’t have much knowledge of until Forman and Paxson came in armed with owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s millions a few days ago.

Of course, he addressed the two main guys who couldn’t put it together good enough against the Cavaliers in the second round two weeks ago: Derrick Rose and restricted-free-agent-to-be Jimmy Butler.

“Derrick's obviously a guy who's at his best when he's playing downhill,” Hoiberg said. “If we can get the wings out running, you get that first big running to the rim, and you give Derrick space on the fast break, that's going to create a lot of opportunities.”

As for Butler: “I'm excited about Jimmy, obviously getting out and running on the wings. Jimmy's an attack player. If you can get him the ball on the run, on the move, and attacking the basket with pace, I think it's an ideal system for him.”

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And clearly, he, the front office and ownership believe he’s the ideal fit for a team that needs a bit of a facelift before taking the next step.

“I wouldn’t take this job if I wasn’t confident that we can continue to play at a championship level,” Hoiberg said.

The right words were said, and hopefully for his sake 12 months from now, there will be less talking and more playing — in June.

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

Wendell Carter Jr. gets early 'learning experience' against Embiid, Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Picture yourself at 19 years old.

Maybe you were in college. Maybe you hit the job market early.

What you likely weren’t doing was guarding one the NBA’s best centers in your first professional game.

That was the task charged to Wendell Carter Jr. in the Bulls’ 127-108 loss to the 76ers in the season opener at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday.

Carter Jr. was the seventh overall pick in the NBA draft after just one season at Duke. He earned the start in his NBA debut after an impressive preseason, but nothing could’ve prepared him for going up against Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

“Oh yeah, for sure,” Carter Jr. said when asked if Embiid was as impressive as he thought he’d be. “He’s a phenomenal player. He’s one of, or the best, big man in the league. Very skilled, very poised. He knows his spots on the court.

“I didn’t go out there with my best effort. It’s just a learning experience for me.”

Carter Jr. had eight points, three rebounds, three assists and a block in 20 minutes. He also picked up four fouls, which the rookie attributed to the physicality and craftiness of Embiid.

But he did flash the impressive and varied skill set that made him a high pick and such a coveted prospect. He was also able to garner the praise of the Bulls’ veterans.

“Even though Wendell got in foul trouble he was still playing (Embiid) solid,” Zach LaVine, who scored a team-high 30 points, said. “That’s a tough first game right there. But he didn’t lack for confidence. Made him take some tough shots, but he’s going to make them. He’s that type of player.”

To his credit, Carter Jr. was candid about his performance. He admitted that his emotions ran the gamut from nervous to excited to happy.

In a season that will have its ups and downs as the young Bulls develop and learn, there will likely be more games like this against other elite NBA competition. It’ll be how Carter Jr. responds that will define his career.

“It’s the first game so I don’t want to put too much on myself,” Carter Jr. said. “It would be different if it was like the 50th game or 60th game. It’s the first game. We’re just going to move on from it. We’ve got our home opener on Saturday (vs. the Pistons). That’s where my mind is right now.”

See, he’s learning already.

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

The Bulls backup point guard situation will be in dire straits all season, with no established veteran behind Kris Dunn. And although the front office has seemingly committed to Cameron Payne as the backup PG (for at least this season), Ryan Arcidiacono showed enough in the season opener to justify giving him meaningful plying time in the rotation. 

Here are the stat lines of Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne from the season opener in Philadelphia:

Arcidiacono: 8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line

Payne:           0 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 from the 3-point line

With so many capable ball handlers and score-first players on the Bulls, point and assist totals aren’t as important as the rebounds and 3-point attempts. To provide the necessary space needed for driving lanes, there has to be openings in the defense caused by defenders sticking close to player they believe are a threat to shoot.

And that is where the problem lies with Payne.

Ryan Arcidiacono—while by no means a dominant scorer—showed a willingness to attack off of the pick-and-roll, even showing off an impressive ball-fake:

Payne, despite coming into the league with the reputation of a scorer, has yet to be aggressive enough to make teams think twice about leaving him wide-open on the perimeter. And he is not one to attack the basket with purpose, averaging less than half a free throw per game for his career. Payne's general lack of aggressiveness when on the floor is often times made worse by his occasional poor post entry passes that seem predetermined:

Even if the above play was designed to get the ball to LaVine in the mid-post, Payne chooses a terrible time to make the pass. When he starts the motion to give the ball to LaVine, Ben Simmons is positioned in front of LaVine to force a tougher pass, as rookie Landry Shamet gambles over the backside to get the steal.

Had Payne chose to swing the ball around the perimeter, or give it to Bobby Ports and then get it back, he could have created an opening for the LaVine pass.

Obviously, the Bulls 19-point loss can’t be blamed on solely on Payne, the terrible defense was a group effort, as was the sometimes questionable shot selection. But with the defense already appearing to be perhaps one of the league's worst units, Fred Hoiberg would be wise to put Arcidiacono in more.

Hoiberg is in a crucial year where he needs to show that he can be the head coach of this team when they finally become competitive.

And for Hoiberg to show that type of growth as a coach, he needs to set the tone that minutes are earned not given, something he has already started with his moving of Jabari Parker to the bench. Payne only received 22 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for Arcidiacono, and it is tough to see that changing if things continue on like they did on Thursday night.