Fred Hoiberg was Bulls’ GM Gar Forman’s guy, a coach with a modern pace-and-space offensive philosophy who Forman thought would lift the Bulls — of Jimmy Butler, Derrick Rose, Pau Gasol, and Joakim Noah — to contending status.
That, obviously, never happened. In part because Hoiberg was never given a roster to fit his style of play. The Butler/Rose Bulls were a bunch of isolation ball stoppers not buying what Hoiberg was selling. After that came the Dwyane Wade/Rajon Rondo Bulls (even more isolation ball stopping) and then a rebuild. It’s fair to say Hoiberg was never given a roster where we could see what he could do with this offense.
But from that first Bulls team — where Butler essentially walked all over the timid Hoiberg — the coach never seemed to command the team or have the ability to get the players pulling the rope in the same direction. This year’s team was spinning its wheels, and there was just a lack of cohesion. All of those things led to Hoiberg being let go. From Mark Strotman at NBC Sports Chicago:
The happy marriage [of Hoiberg and the Bulls] lasted all of 25 games. Butler, in the wake of a 16-point loss to the New York Knicks, told reporters that players “probably have to be coached harder” by Hoiberg. At that point the Bulls were 15-10, but the season never fully recovered from there…
But once the Butler drama began – and perhaps there was no way he could have stopped that – and it was clear the Bulls were going in a different direction, it marked the beginning of the end. The Bulls were on a crash course for a full-scale rebuild, and after three-plus seasons of 115-155 basketball that same voice couldn’t continue to lead that next charge.
Lack of leadership, more than wins and losses, is the reason Bulls management felt a coaching change couldn’t wait…
“I think as a head coach you have to demand excellence in your players,” Bulls president of basketball operations John Paxson said Monday. “They will respond to that.”
Hoiberg just never connected with veteran players and got buy-in from them. A lot of college coaches struggle with that (Brad Stevens in Boston is the exception, not the rule). While some individual players such as Zach LaVine took steps forward under him, every year there was some distraction — for example, a player punching another and fracturing an orbital bone in a preseason practice — or other sign of the team lacking unity. The 5-19 start was just the final straw.
Hoiberg was not a fit in Chicago. Given a roster that better fits his style could he coach an NBA team up to being a threat come the playoffs? Maybe. We don’t know. And we may never find out because you know some tempting college offers will come Hoiberg’s way after the season.