In matchup against King James with President Obama on hand, Hoiberg avoids pressure


In matchup against King James with President Obama on hand, Hoiberg avoids pressure

Nearly five years ago, Fred Hoiberg began his coaching career in Ames, Iowa, with a 78-64 victory over Northern Arizona in his first regular season game as Iowa State’s head basketball coach. A shade under 13,000 fans were in attendance at the Hilton Coliseum, which held 14,356 at the time, to see the Cyclones knock off a Lumberjacks team that eventually won 19 games and lost in the opening round of the CIT, college basketball’s lowest postseason tournament.

Half a decade later, the scene couldn’t be more different for Hoiberg. He’ll begin his NBA head coaching career Tuesday night inside a sold out United Center against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. And as if the NBA’s first nationally televised game against the league’s best player wasn't enough, President Barack Obama is scheduled to be in attendance to cheer on his hometown Bulls.

Hoiberg admitted five years ago he was “very calm” in his debut with Iowa State, and despite the pressure-packed atmosphere awaiting him against the Cavaliers with the Commander-in-Chief on hand, he said at shootaround Tuesday afternoon that he's more opportunistic than anything.

“Very anxious, very excited,” Hoiberg said. “The opportunity to play a team that’s favored to win an NBA championship this year. To go out, it’ll be a great barometer for our guys to see where we are after this opening night, and then we get to do it all over again tomorrow with a back-to-back. Tonight, it’s exciting. It’s an exciting time. I know our players will be ready.”

When asked specifically about a President, a King (James' nickname) and a Mayor (Hoiberg's nickname) being in attendance, the Bulls head coach admitted with a laugh, "I'm probably the lowest on the totem pole on that one."

[MORE: President Obama expected in attendance for Bulls-Cavaliers]

The storyline heading into the season opener for the Bulls is once again dealing with James, whose teams have knocked Chicago out of the postseason in four of the last six seasons – twice with Cleveland in 2010 and 2015, and twice with Miami in 2011 and 2013. With a nearly identical group returning from a year ago, when the injury-riddled Cavaliers knocked them out in the East semifinals, the Bulls’ hope is that a new philosophy under Hoiberg, specifically one tailored to the offensive end, will allow the Bulls to succeed where Tom Thibodeau-led groups failed.

And yet, for the hoopla surrounding Tuesday night’s affair, Hoiberg and the Bulls have maintained a level-headed approach, understanding that the outcome is simply one of 82 games that will define the season as two teams on a collision course to meet again in the postseason get their collective feet under them.

"We're definitely all in. We're focused and know its going to take time. We're working hard every day to make it the best possible, and its a good vibe over here," Joakim Noah said. "We know we have a lot of work to do. It's Game 1, and I'm excited to see how we compete tonight."

Neither team will be at the full-strength they hope to be come postseason, part of the reason Hoiberg isn't feeling as much pressure and is taking a long-term approach heading into the opener. James missed the final four preseason games after receiving an injection to deal with back pain, both Kyrie Irving (knee) and Iman Shumpert (wrist) will miss Tuesday’s game with injuries, and Anderson Varejao returns to the floor for the first time since tearing his Achilles 10 months ago.

For the Bulls, Derrick Rose will have his minutes monitored as he battles back from an orbital fracture that limited him to three practices and one 10-minute appearance in the preseason. Mike Dunleavy remains out after offseason back surgery. Tuesday's outcome will have little bearing on whether the Bulls can or will dethrone James in seven months, meaning Game 1 is just that.

“Obviously throughout the course of the season, a lot of things will transpire by the time the playoffs roll around, so I don’t think you look at that from Day 1," Hoiberg. "You know as the pressure of you have to get by this team. Because there’s so many variables that can happen over the course of the season.

“But they are the team if you want to make it to the finals and have a chance, they’re the favorites. You just try to prepare the guys as best you can.”

[MORE: Derrick Rose set to start against LeBron, Cavaliers]

Hoiberg's preparation has, in the early going, yielded mixed results as the team familiarizes itself with a new up-tempo offensive scheme. The Bulls averaged 28.8 3-point attempts in the preseason, fifth most in the NBA and 6.5 more than they took a year ago under Thibodeau (22.3). There will be bumps along the way, and question marks about the team's defense will linger, but Noah is confident the Bulls' hard-work mentality which defined them the last five seasons will remain, regardless.

"We're all learning from each other and tonight I think it's going to be interesting just to see how we compete." Noah said. "There's going to be mistakes out there, were all learning different philosophies out there. But for me it's just about the energy we're going to bring to the game."

Noah, who will come off the bench for the first time since his second NBA season, shared the same approach as his head coach. Though he thinks it "awesome" that Obama will be in attendance, and knows better than anyone the task of eventually going head-to-head with James in the postseason, Tuesday night is about beginning the season on the right foot and coming away with a victory.

“Obviously there's a great level of respect for him as a player," Noah said of James, the two-time NBA champion. "You've got to respect everything that he does on the court. He's a great player. (But) we just want to beat the Cavs."

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

According to Bleacher Report, Wendell Carter Jr. would be taken fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies if the NBA were to redraft this year’s class based off of Summer League performances.

It may sound like a crazy concept (and it is), but Carter Jr. averaged the second most points, 14.6, through five July games in Las Vegas. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field while averaging 28.8 minutes in his glamorous first-stint with Chicago. Those numbers are even more striking if you consider Carter Jr.’s 42.9 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

Carter Jr., the real seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft, looked like the all-around player the Bulls were hoping to get this offseason. He made his blocking abilities as a center known from the moment he stepped on the court in Summer League.

In their re-draft, Bleacher Report had Chicago using the No. 7 pick on the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, who was actually taken 36th overall in last month’s Draft.

Robinson, a center, averaged 13 points and 24.8 minutes per game over five Summer League contests. He was the best rebounder on his team with an average of 10.2 in the five games that the Knicks played.

The 20-year-old took the second most shots on the Knicks and had the highest field goal percentage at 67 percent, but Robinson did not have any three-point attempts.  What made his recent production seem even more surprising was the fact that the 7'1'' big man did not play a single minute of college basketball.

But would Robinson fit in the Bulls’ system?

Chicago has taken on an offense-first mentality, so Robinson would not be as great of a fit in the Bulls lineup as Carter Jr., but he would still be an impact player. He can be compared to the Bulls’ current center Robin Lopez, who averaged a similar amount of points per game (11.8 points in 26.4 minutes) last season as Robinson’s Summer League average (13 points in 24.8 minutes). And like Lopez, Robinson will likely be most effective around the basket and in the pick-and-roll.

Robinson would also have to learn the defensive concepts that a veteran like Lopez has mastered over his 10-year career.

Next season, the Bulls will have an exciting scoring trio of Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. And the fact that Carter Jr. is getting so much love in the national spotlight is yet another reason for Bulls fans to be excited about this upcoming season.

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets


Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

The Bulls gave Jabari Parker a two-year, $40 million deal for good reason.

One, the Bulls had the salary cap space to get the deal done and had just about filled out their roster. The money wasn't going to be used elsewhere. Also, the second year of the deal is a team option which gives the Bulls some security should Parker not be able to stay healthy or play up to the standards such a salary commands.

Parker was given that money for multiple reasons. One of those reasons was not for his defense.

But, according to Parker, no one gets paid for their defense.

Speaking on 670 The Score on Wednesday, Parker was asked about whether he felt he had the ability and effort to defend in the NBA, something he hasn't done particularly well in four seasons.

"I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense," Parker said. "There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

"If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them."

Parker's right in one sense, that players are usually paid for their offensive output. There are also more tangible, easily read statistics on the offensive end than there are defensively. Heck, the Bulls gave $80 million to Zach LaVine and he was the team's worst defender last season.

But then again, defense matters. A whole lot, especially at a time when offenses are better than ever (thus making defenders more valuable). The final four teams in last year's playoffs were ranked 1st, 6th, 9th and LeBron James (29th) in defensive efficiency.

A day after Parker's comments the Celtics gave Marcus Smart a four-year, $52 million contract. He's a career 37 percent shooter and has made 29 percenet of his 3-pointers in four seasons.

So while Parker, a below-average defender, might not be entirely accurate, at least he's owning who he is. And if he scores like he did in Year 3, averaging 20 points before re-tearing his ACL, no one will care how he defends.