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His bosses are terrible, but that doesn’t let Fred Hoiberg off the hook

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He’s in a bad situation, but he’s helping to keep it bad

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New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

I’m not sure it can be emphasized enough here how poorly Fred Hoiberg has performed as coach since being gifted this job 2 seasons ago. Maybe that desire to harp on it is because there is still sentiment out there that the Bulls mess, being the fault of the front office, somehow isn’t still Hoiberg’s fault too.

Yes, the Bulls got a win in their most recent outing to break a 5-game losing streak, though if it wasn’t for the variance of 3-point shooting on both sides it could’ve easily been another L. The blowout in Boston sent the Bulls to ‘national embarrassment’ status, with poor play compounded by paltry effort. The offense remains in the tank, the defense is slipping, and the locker room is fractured.

Or maybe the players are all together in some respects...like calling out their coach. Yahoo’s Kelly Dwyer had a fantastic post-CelticsGame roundup of comments from Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Jimmy Butler all showing a lack of confidence in Hoiberg, though ironically it was Butler who had the least to say on the matter.

And found in the Boston Globe was something more inflammatory from Rajon Rondo (via):

“My perspective on things [has changed], I would love to be part of a winning tradition or winning culture,” he said. “I thought I was going to get that here.”

...

“I’m looking for a straightforward coach. That’s what I’m looking forward to the most, sitting down with a coach. I want to develop a relationship and see what his goals are.”

And what does Hoiberg do in response: he starts Rondo the very next game!

That was yet another instance of truly bizarre minutes management by Hoiberg in the games since the trade deadline sent away Doug McDermott and Taj Gibson. We touched on it a lot in discussing that game: sure, they got the win, but it doesn’t validate the nonsense decision-making leading up to it.

Because it’s clearly not about development versus wins-getting, as it’s not clearly... anything. Nikola Mirotic was not seeing minutes reduced because the front office wants to make the Joffrey Lavergne aquisition look good, it was just Fred taking a couple bad games as reason to demote to the point of being on the inactive list...only to see him placed right back with heavy minutes the very next game. What changed in the 26 hours between games? Did Mirotic have one of Fred’s Famously Fantastic shootarounds?

Mirotic, though someone I maintain is still good and going to get a huge contract this offseason, has not developed under Hoiberg. That’s part of the reason Fred was brought in, with the main reason being he and Gar Forman are pals and Tom Thibodeau got too much credit from the petty turds who run this team. And there’s, uh, shooting and free-flowing offense or whatever, too, but developing young players and communicating. I remember that being a big deal.

Ask Niko how well Fred is doing on that. Or Jerian Grant, or Bobby Portis and MCW.

Now the latter two guys I think are an example of the ‘need consistent minutes’ angle being overblown. Of course young players are going to say they need consistent minutes to succeed, they want to play. If they’re bad, they don’t necessarily get entitlement minutes to work it out, nobody on this roster is a prospect deserving of that status.

What’s more annoying to me, and likely for the players themselves, is that there’s no proper incentive structure towards getting those consistent minutes. Grant had been doing fine in a spot-up shooting role alongside Butler and Wade in the starting lineup. Mirotic, though a bit of a flake, is one of the handful of actually-decent players on the team (seriously, we’re talking about the 4th or 5th best player on the roster at worst) and by far the best to pair with Jimmy Butler. Why are they the ones who are seeing their minutes yanked around to the point where they don’t even get in the game some nights? It’s certainly not based on merit. Or it is based on that, but Hoiberg doesn’t know how to measure that.

It’s tough to even think of a player Hoiberg and the Bulls have seen improvement from in their time here. The McDermott acquisition was a clear disaster, as coach and player comparison of Ames High Yearbook fonts over the years didn’t do enough to actually improve Doug’s play (he was likely hopeless, but still).

Maybe you could label Cristiano Felicio positively, as he earned the backup-center role from Portis and has maintained it. Or Paul Zipser, who got praise from coach and GM alike during the deadline...wait, whoops: Zipser received a DNP last game.

No, any success Hoiberg has had is due to his veterans, with most of the credit going to Jimmy Butler bailing the Bulls out of some losses with late-game heroics and superhuman overall efforts. As Butler’s production has slid recently in the wake of a heel injury (Hoiberg overplayed Jimmy nearly as much as Thibs did, oh the irony), that ripcord option isn’t as available. Hoiberg’s been a terrible 4th-quarter and clutch-situation coach for his NBA career, and it is exacerbated when Jimmy can’t do it on his own.

And in the sporadic games where said veterans did thrive, it’s not due to the coaching. The stagnation we’ve seen at the end of games may have as much to do with Butler and Wade ignoring the coach as it is Hoiberg’s play-calling, but both of that can fall on Hoiberg. And Butler’s seeming refusal to push the ball is probably why Hoiberg cites ‘pace’ as reason to play Rondo. Ken Berger, late of CBSSports, did a deep dive at Bleacher Report into the Bulls dysfunction and had some confirmations of what we’ve all seen from the three alphas:

a scout with a rival team told Bleacher Report he's witnessed persistent episodes when Butler, Rondo and Wade have ignored plays Hoiberg has called.

"When Fred would call plays on the sideline, Rondo would just flat-out blow him off," said the scout, who spoke with Bleacher Report on the condition of anonymity. "Wade does it, too. Butler does it, too. ... That becomes infectious."

...

"Having scouted [Hoiberg] a bunch, you can see it. He's laid back, he's relaxed, and he's not going to rip into people. It doesn't seem like he has the respect of his entire team."

There are more, and more truly horrifying, details in Berger’s piece. Less so about Hoiberg but about his benefactors in the office. There’s more on their gross and dumb plan to sit out a couple summers, but also this:

...belief in front office circles that the only reason Forman and Paxson entertained trade proposals for Butler was because dealing him would protect Hoiberg.

"Getting rid of Butler saves Fred's job," another person in the NBA coaching business said.

This was a sentiment also expressed by Adrian Wojnarowski around the trade deadline, that a ‘full rebuild’ Bulls team will work better under Hoiberg, and management sees that as reason to keep him.

This is total garbage! It’s bad enough to think that a Butler trade will save GarPax, but even worse if it’s Hoiberg too. You should never side with a coach over a superstar player, and definitely not this coach. Hoiberg has not shown he can develop younger players, and if any of those prospects actually get good (not sure that’s part of the plan, that could mean a big, long-term contract!) he won’t be able to lead them.

It’d just be another example of the Bulls refusing to admit mistakes, because having a nonexistent coaching search to wind up with this obvious crony-hire was a big one. The front office gets blame for hiring Hoiberg and a litany of other fuck-ups the past 5 years. But that doesn’t mean Hoiberg himself is blameless, he’s gotta go too.