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Fred Hoiberg is here to make basketball fun again for the Bulls

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The slog that defined the Bulls under Tom Thibodeau is out. Under Fred Hoiberg, the Bulls are emphasizing making life easier for every player on the roster.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

It's impossible to distill the Tom Thibodeau era down to just one image, if only because the way you view the Bulls' tumultuous run of singular achievements and disheartening setbacks over the last five seasons mostly depends on your disposition, temperament and general outlook in life.

The highs were damn high. No one could dismiss triumphs like snapping the Heat's 27-game winning streak at the United Center, the Game 7 playoff victory in Brooklyn behind the unrelenting resolve of Joakim Noah or the way the team blitzed the league to the tune of an NBA-best 62 wins during Thibodeau's first year.

The problem with the Thibodeau era, and the reason he's not here anymore, is because every time the Bulls took two steps forward it felt like they couldn't help but take one step back. The lows are just as easy to recount, from the way the offense dried up and died in the playoffs against Washington to how last season's meeker, physically impaired Noah could only throw prayers at the rim even while standing two feet from the basket.

But there's a less ubiquitous image that's seared into my brain when I think about Thibodeau's Bulls, one I think encapsulates the push and the pull at the heart of the franchise during his reign. I was at the UC as a fan in 2013 for a potential closeout Game 6 against the Nets, one that took place just five days after arguably the most indelible and unlikely individual performance of Thibodeau's tenure, Nate Robinson's unforgettable "NBA Jam" night in Game 4.

Nate was back in the building on this Thursday, but this time he could only do so much. The entire team had come down with a bug, and there was Robinson sitting on the end of the bench with a towel over his head vomiting into a garbage can during his precious few moments of rest. To his credit, Robinson still played 42 minutes that day, hitting half of his six three-pointers to finish as the team's second leading scorer with 18 points.

For better or worse, Nate always gave the Bulls every ounce he had that season. But even as his roster was crumbling around him, Thibs always seemed blinded to the fact that the annual cascade of adversity that defined his incumbency was downright unnatural. He was a great coach, but someone who could never separate himself from the task that was in front of his team right this very second.

With Thibodeau, basketball was work, the type of job that puts food on the table and pays the bills but simultaneously drains your creativity and maybe even your will to live. It's the reason the Bulls' stay as contenders always felt so fragile and the reason the team's biggest rival often felt like itself. The things the Bulls achieved under Thibodeau were undeniable, but why did everything always feel so suffocating?

For Thibodeau, there was honor in the work not because of the pain but because there was no other way to do it. This roster has to hardware to prove just how pronounced Thibs' impact was, from Rose's MVP trophy to Noah's Defensive Player of the Year title to Jimmy Butler's "Most Improved" award. But when it came down to it, Thibodeau's mantra of treating every game like a Game 7 took its toll. How could it not?

Perhaps that's why the theme of this season, up and down the roster, seems to be simple: make life easier on yourself. It's an approach that might seem like it stands in direct opposition to everything Thibodeau preached, but only in the most complimentary (and complementary) ways. The habits this core formed under Thibodeau aren't going anywhere just yet. Now it's Fred Hoiberg's job to remind them that basketball can be fun again.

There's a reason Doug McDermott said "you can't really make a mistake" in Fred Hoiberg's system and why Taj Gibson noted how exciting it was to move from Thibodeau's offense to this one. It's why Rose and Butler are texting each other about the offense and why last season's pleas from the players to find a better flow and get into sets quicker have been answered.

Thibodeau was uncompromising in his belief that winning games only happened if you prepared a certain way. With Hoiberg, it feels like the Bulls are constantly involved in an open dialogue on the best way to make that happen:

If you follow the NBA close enough, "spacing" might start to feel like one of those empty cliches that gets repeated so much it loses its meaning. But there are very real benefits to playing four-out instead of the two-post system Thibodeau lived and died with. You only need to look at Rose's quotes after the first preseason game to see them.

Playing power forward next to Pau Gasol made life hard on Noah last season, so that's not happening anymore. Clogging the lane with traditional big men required Rose to contort his body mid-air like a gymnast just to get a clean look at the rim, so that's out, too. Tony Snell and Doug McDermott almost seem like abused puppies for the way they were yanked off the court after every turnover or missed defensive rotation, so this year the leash is longer.

It might be difficult to get too excited about the Bulls when they bring back the exact same roster (Bobby Portis aside) from a team that just rolled up and accepted death against the Cavs without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. That's a realist approach and it's certainly fair. But the combination of internal improvement and maximizing the efficiency of the lineups on the floor has done wonders for other teams. Just ask the Warriors.

Now: the Warriors were one of the best teams of all-time last season, so you can't put too much stock in the similarities. But it's important to remember how Golden State went from good to great, because it's model for everything the Bulls are doing. The Warriors fired a successful coach, made only one relatively minor free agent acquisition (Shaun Livingston) in the summer and made just one change to their starting lineup. That was at power forward, where David Lee's proven but lethargic post play was replaced by Draymond Green's all-around skill.

You can see the outline for the Bulls right there. The two-post offense is out and the more dynamic playmaker at the four has been inserted as a starter. The offense will emphasize pace and movement in a way it rarely did under Thibs. Rose isn't Curry and the Bulls don't have the shooters to bend the court the way the Warriors did, but it won't stop them from trying to put their most capable shooters in the same position to launch.

The Bulls likely lack the defensive talent that powered the Warriors last season, but this is still a roster that knows how to defend. It's possible the Bulls fall off a cliff without Thibodeau barking at them every possession, but as long as Noah and Gibson and Butler are healthy, there should be enough quality defenders here to keep the floor from falling out on that end.

If there's a reason to be excited for this season, it's because it won't feel as draining for everyone involved, from the front office to the players to the fans. It won't feel like the margin for error is a razor's edge. It won't feel like every game is a Game 7, because there's a completely new perspective reigning over everything.

With Thibodeau, it was always about results. With Hoiberg, it might now be more about the process. The Bulls can still be a team this city proudly watches and relates to, only this time there will be less "do your job" and more "trust yourself and have fun".

The NBA is a big business and basketball at this level is certainly a job, but that doesn't mean it always has to feel like work. Under Fred Hoiberg, for once, maybe it won't be.