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

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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.

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is “tired of people talking sh*t about my defense” and working towards becoming an NBA All-Star

Zach LaVine is fed up with being underestimated and he’s going to do something about it. The Bulls guard has been having a strong pre-season so far but is looking to improve his skills as a two-way player.

“I’m just tired of people talking shit about my defense,” LaVine said. “I’ve always been a good on-ball defender. But there’s no reason I can be this good offensively and not be that on the defensive end.”

“I’m taking more pride in it,” he continued. “I’m pretty sure it’ll show. I’ll make sure of that.”

If you think LaVine sounds confident, he has good reason to be. Last season LaVine was one of only ten players to average at least 23 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists, making him stand out as an elite player in the company of MVPs and All-Stars. LaVine’s personal triumphs, however, were overshadowed by the Bulls abysmal 22-60 record last season.

So far, this preseason LaVine has been looking better on defense, averaging 1.3 steals per game through three preseason games. Any improvements on defense will greatly help LaVine’s All-Star case.

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3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

3 takeaways from the Bulls' win over a limited Raptors squad in Toronto

The Bulls recorded their first win of the preseason with Sunday night’s 105-91 win over the Raptors. Here are three takeaways:

We got a peek at Jim Boylen's regular-season rotation

We had a clue that Boylen was going to go with Tomas Satoransky as his starter after he chose to sit him with the starters in the Bulls third preseason game against the Indiana Pacers. Sunday confirmed this idea. Boylen stated before the game that he would be starting to roll out his regular season rotations, and we saw "Sato" start next to the regular Bulls starting group of Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and the returning Wendell Carter Jr.

On top of seeing the starting group, we got to see Thaddeus Young in his probable role as the sixth man, coming in for Carter to provide the Bulls with more of a small look where Markkanen acts as the center.

Markkanen was particularly effective on the glass against the smaller Raptors frontline sans Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam. Lauri collected a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds, including four offensive rebounds. 

Giving an even greater effort on the glass will push Markkanen closer to All-Star status and it is not out of the question as we have seen him raise his rebounding average every season. Games like Sunday night's show that all of the muscle Markkanen added this offseason is going to pay dividends in the 2019-20 NBA regular season and beyond, which will allow the Bulls to play smaller more often to get dynamic scorers like Coby White on the floor.

White came in as a substitute for Porter, giving the Bulls another small-ball lineup in which LaVine acts as the small forward next to him and Satoransky.

Satoransky was great, finishing with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 turnovers in 21 minutes. Sato pushed the pace but also could sense the right time to pull the ball back out and run a play in the halfcourt.

In general, the Bulls trotted out more three-guard lineups in this game, and the size of big guards like Satoransky and Kris Dunn help the Bulls blur the lines between wing and guard, mitigating some of the risks involved with not having a traditional wing on the floor.

On the flip side, the perimeter skills of a big man like Young allow the Bulls to play bigger lineups in which Young plays small forward next to two big men. In Sunday night's win over the Raptors, Young finished the game second on the Bulls in rebounds (7) and assists (3), while being in the right spot more times than not on D. 

With stretch-five Luke Kornet (2-of-7 from 3-point line vs Raptors), the gritty, playmaking Ryan Arcidiacono (3 assists, no turnovers), and rookie Daniel Gafford rounding out the rest of the new Bulls' Bench Mob," Boylen will have the ability to play many different ways, affording us a fair chance to see what he is made of as an NBA head coach. He is already passing his first test of showing that he is open to change, with the Bulls shooting 49 3-pointers on Sunday night, keeping their promise of being more aggressive from deep.

The Zach LaVine All-Star push starts now 

Overall, Zach LaVine has not been shy about already being at an All-Star level of play, you just have to ask him.

LaVine came into Sunday night's game sixth in the league in preseason scoring, averaging 22.0 points per game through two contests, and he kept up that scoring onslaught in a big way. He finished Sunday's win over the Raptors with 26 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals in just 24 minutes of action. He finished the night with four turnovers as well, and while you would like to see the assist-to-turnover ratio improve, high turnover totals are just the name of the game for high-usage stars.

Besides, Boylen and Co. likely would rather see LaVine collect some turnovers trying to make the extra pass—something the Bulls have committed to hard this preseason—rather than trying to iso and make a play for himself.

Notably, the LaVine-Markkanen pick-and-roll that figures to be a staple of the Bulls offense for a long time again made an appearance in this game, looking crisp at moments as defenses struggle with scrambling to Markkanen at the 3-point line or worrying more about LaVine's oftentimes dominant drives to the rim.

While it is encouraging to see LaVine score effortlessly, that is not a new development for Bulls fans. The true mark of improvement for LaVine will be his defense and playmaking, both of which looked good on Sunday night.

LaVine racked up two steals and showed an improved awareness and aggressiveness when prowling the passing lanes. What makes defense so huge for LaVine, besides the fact that his effort-level sets the tone for the team, is that he so often turns opponent turnovers into points in transition for Chicago.

The Bulls had 14 fastbreak points and 17 points off of turnovers in their win over the Raptors, with LaVine's efforts playing a large hand in the win. 

Coby White continues to score in bunches 

It has been stated many times how Coby White was more of a shooting guard in high school and only transitioned into being more a lead guard at North Carolina. And those natural scoring instincts have shown up time and time again in the NBA preseason, especially in transition. 

If you get White going towards the rim with a head of steam in transition, he will make it to the basket before the 24-second shot clock hits the 19-second mark, a remarkable display of his blazing speed.

Of course, everything is to be taken with a grain of salt in the NBA preseason, as we are often seeing White (and others) face off against a team's backups or even worse, players that won't even make an NBA roster. But what White has done well should play in the regular season, too. He scored 18 points on 37.5% shooting from the field, including hitting 4 of his 12 attempts from 3-point range. White was 2-2 from the free throw line and finished with one assist and no turnovers. 

It looks like it will be a while before we see Coby White look like an NBA-level floor general but he is already playing like an uber-confident, spark plug shooting guard.

The Bulls can utilize White's scoring in the regular season knowing that even if his court vision isn't where they want it to be, his shoot-first mentality and propensity to keep the ball moving should result in lower turnover totals than your usual score-first point guard.