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Bulls vs. Rockets takeaways: What is Fred Hoiberg doing?

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Hoiberg played rotation roulette yet again in the Bulls’ ugly fourth straight loss

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Chicago Bulls
“What am I doing here?”
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Bulls’ 115-94 loss to the Rockets last night actually started quite well for Chicago, and it kind of looked like it was going to be one of those games they inexplicably won while a good opponent laid an egg.

But then things got weird, and then bad, and then downright embarrassing.

The weird had everything to do with Fred Hoiberg’s nonsensical rotations as he desperately tries to find combinations that work. Now, I’ll cut Hoiberg the teeniest bit of slack due to a roster construction that’s arguably the worst in the league. There’s no shooting, the young guys aren’t any good and the only real consistent player is Jimmy Butler.

However, what happened against the Rockets was a clown show.

Hoiberg played 12 guys in the first half. TWELVE! Michael Carter-Williams -- who’s been in and out of the starting lineup/rotation and was a DNP against the Magic -- was the first man off the bench instead of Rajon Rondo, coming in for Jerian Grant just four minutes into the game. Then came Joffrey Lauvergne, who’s ahead of Nikola Mirotic in the rotation (for now). The normal Cristiano Felicio and Denzel Valentine minutes came at the end of the first quarter, and Rondo didn’t play.

But Rondo and Paul Zipser entered to start the second quarter, meaning that Hoiberg had already played 11 players. So maybe Cameron “Point Guard of the Future” Payne was out of the rotation? No sir! There he was coming in just over a minute into the second quarter.

So, for whatever reason, the Bulls ran a lineup of Rondo/Payne/Wade/Zipser/Felicio. In a stunning development, the Rockets’ bench closed the gap even further after starting the second quarter on a quick run, and then they just ran away from the Bulls for the remainder of the half and through the third quarter as things got real bad.

Needless to say, I simply have no idea what Hoiberg was trying to do here with these rotations. I know he’s been dealt a tough hand and is trying to balance development and a playoff push, but 12 players? A Rondo/Payne/Wade backcourt? No Nikola Mirotic AT ALL? Whatever you think about Niko, it’s pretty wild that he’s now totally out of the rotation and didn’t even play in a blowout.

The Payne stuff was...painful. He’s been mostly bad so far with the Bulls, but playing minutes alongside Rondo and Wade is no way to use a guy the team is supposedly looking at as a supposed point guard of the future. I’d honestly be fine just letting Payne take his lumps running the second unit, but with the Bulls still fighting for the playoffs there’s no way Fred just benches Rondo again. If anything he’ll probably go the other way and take Stacey King’s suggestion and put him back into the starting lineup again (Fred also recently said it was on the table). #ThreeAlphas reunite!

After the game, Wade and Butler were frustrated with the silly rotations and pointed out how tough it is for the young guys to develop when they’re being jerked around like this:

Meanwhile, Fred just kind of shrugs and talks about how they’ve had great practices and the best shootarounds ever. Might as well call him Fred Trestman.

The actual play on the court was also very trash

Dwyane Wade got the Bulls off to a good start, as he clearly had some fresh legs after sitting out the last few contests. He made his first six shots and eight of his first nine before tailing off badly, just like the rest of the team.

After taking a 33-23 lead after the first quarter, the Bulls got outscored 69-30 over the next two quarters. It was some of the sorriest basketball I’ve ever seen and screamed “FIRE THE COACH!”

The offense had little to no purpose and no flow, with the results usually being tough shots that missed. And even when there was decent offense the result was usually poor because the Bulls can’t shoot at all (9-of-39 from three).

It would’ve been nice to see Butler try to be a bit more assertive offensively when things were starting to get out of hand, but too often he was reduced to being a spectator. And when he did try to force the issue, he found himself hounded by multiple Rockets defenders at every turn, like this:

Butler has not played particularly well since returning from his heel injury, but part of it is also him struggling to deal with all this added defensive attention. Teams are selling out trying to stop him because they don’t worry about his teammates beating them, and that’s resulting in less shots, less free throws and less overall effectiveness.

On the other end of the floor, the Bulls were a joke. The Rockets struggled early, but it wasn’t really anything the Bulls were doing. Once the open threes started going down, it was a wrap. The Rockets’ pace and ball movement created wide-open triple after wide-open triple as the Bulls’ rotations were a mess. As always, credit to James Harden for repeatedly breaking down the defense and getting the Bulls scrambling.

It was also hilarious watching the Rockets launch early-clock threes while still up big late in the fourth quarter. If the shot was there, they were taking it. No efforts at all to bleed clock. It was basically a shooting practice during a real game. I dug it.

But back to the Bulls. They’re now out of the playoff picture thanks to the Bucks’ win, and next up is a really good Celtics team in Boston on Sunday. It’s hard to see how the Bulls win given how they’re playing, and we’ll see what the rotation roulette lands on this time.